Availability Heuristic vs Representative Heuristic: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. An availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on readily available examples, whereas a representative heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on stereotypical images.
  2. Recent events influence an availability heuristic more than a representative heuristic.
  3. The availability heuristic is used when making quick decisions, while the representative heuristic is more commonly used when making judgments that require more reflection.

What is the Availability Heuristic?

The availability heuristic is a type of heuristic judgment you make based on recent available examples. The availability heuristic is based on the memory of specific instances you have been exposed to recently. It describes the tendency to utilize the information that comes to our mind quickly and efficiently when making decisions about the future.

The availability heuristic exists because a few memories and facts are spontaneously revived in our minds, while to recall some of them, you need to make an effort. The human brain can recall some of the memories automatically because they appear or have a long-lasting imprint on your mind. It first tries to use common mental shortcuts by drawing upon the information that most readily comes to your mind.

The availability heuristic has some severe effects on many aspects of once daily life in a professional field. People make hundreds of decisions daily, and aspects such as emotional reactions, media coverage, and images impact one’s mind; then, it is in an entirely rational calculation.

What is a Representative Heuristic?

The representative heuristic is a mental shortcut based on how similar an example is to something else. It is utilized when making judgments about the probability of an event under uncertain conditions. It describes assessing the likeness between two things and organizing them based on the category prototype. For example, pairing like with like and causes and effects of the same situation should resemble each other. When judging the representativeness of a new stimulus, people pay attention to the level of similarity between the stimulus and the standard process.

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People go for representative heuristic decisions because either they have limited related resources in their mind or because that is rooted in the fundamental way they perceive and understand things and personnel. It is a form of biased judgment that we make in everyday life based on stereotypes set in one’s minds. For example, if people see someone wearing a suit and a tie and carrying a briefcase, they assume he must be a lawyer because they look like a stereotype.

The main problem with representative heuristics is that it does not have any relation with probability. Yet, people continue to put more value into them than on relevant information. Awareness of heuristic behavior and inculcating logical reasoning toward solving problems might help overcome representative heuristic decision-making.

Difference Between Availability Heuristic and Representative Heuristic

  1. Availability heuristic deals with a memory of specific instances, while the representative heuristic deals with the memory of prototypes, stereotypes, or averages.
  2. The availability heuristic suggests that singular, memorable moments outside influence decisions. In contrast, the Representative heuristic suggests that stereotypes in mind have an impact on your decisions.
  3. The availability heuristic is about particular examples and how they come to our minds while making decisions. In contrast, a representative heuristic is more about prototypes.
  4. Availability heuristics can be avoided by gaining proper behavioral science knowledge. In contrast, Representative heuristics can be avoided by learning about logical and statistical thinking.
  5. Availability heuristic leads to altering judgements of probability, whereas representative heuristic leads to ignorance of factors that shape a particular event.

Comparison Between Availability Heuristic and Representative Heuristic

Parameter of ComparisonAvailability HeuristicRepresentative Heuristic
BasisBased on recent events examplesBased on stereotypes
UsesUsed for judging number of thingsused for judging similar events.
ExamplesJudging frequency of deaths, judging the population of citiesJudging a person,  Judging their profession
Causes  Due to the revival of recent events.Due to perceiving a similarity between current and past events.
AvoidanceUnderstand behavioural science and avoid making impulsive decisions. Understanding logical and statistical thinking.
  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/8946429/
  2. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9657935/
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Last Updated : 25 November, 2023

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