A Psychology Minute: Availability Heuristic

“There a lot of Corollas around these days.” Shortly after purchasing our Corolla, I remember thinking how all of the sudden these cars were all over the road. In reality, there was no change in the number of Corollas from before or after we bought our car; it was just that we now owned one.

Every day, we rely on the availability heuristic to make decisions about what we think or do. The availability heuristic occurs when we use examples that quickly come to mind in deciding what we believe to be true. Unfortunately, this can create immediate bias not based on a reality. Three quick questions. Do more words exist with the letter “r” at beginning or as the third letter? Have more kids been abducted in the past decade or in the few decades prior? Has violent crime increased or decreased against kids in the past 40 years? Surprising to many, the answer to all three questions is the latter option.

Whether it is because the media sensationalizes abductions when they (rarely) occur or it is easier to think of words that begin with a letter, beware that the availability heuristic influences what we “know” to be true.

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