Cognitive heuristics, the short-cuts in decision-making.

Cognitive heuristics, the short-cuts in decision-making.

Heuristics are interdisciplinary cognitive aids, they act as useful tools for problem solving, decision-making and discovery. The term ‘heuristic’ originates form the Ancient Greek heuriskein, meaning ‘to find out’ or ‘to discover’. In recent years heuristics have grown in popularity the cognitive neuroscience fields of decision-making, reasoning, problem solving and learning, they have also been employed to artificial intelligence, economics, law and philosophy. Heuristics are generally referred to as ‘rule of thumbs’ or ‘mental shortcuts’ that enable an individual to act quickly in the absence of all of the available information when they are unable to take the time to fully assess a situation.

Since the Noble prize winning research of Daniel Kahneman (2002) which applied his insights from psychological research to economics a large number of heuristics have been discovered and catalogued by researchers throughout the world. We now know of heuristic effects that have been observed in tax-related decisions (Blaufus et al, 2013), navigation (Brunye et al, 2010), job interviews (Davis & Panner, 1986), forensic analysis (Dror & Cole, 2010), criminal behaviour (Garcia-Retamero & Dhami, 2009) and sports (Raab, 2012), they have even been seen in reality television shows such as The Voice (van de Calseyde et al, 2014) and Deal or No Deal (Brooks et al, 2009).

Traditional heuristic theory suggests that heuristics are a sub-optimal, inferior strategy for making decisions when compared to slower strategies that enable an individual to weigh up the ‘pros and cons’. However, in recent years a considerable amount of research has been conducted that is contrary to the traditional perspective. Heuristics have been found to be far more accurate and flexible than previously believed, in particular environments they often out perform other decision-making strategies. Despite the growth in research over the years there is still a lot of room for development. Watch the space.

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Daniel Edgcumbe

I am studying towards my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at a leading London university

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