The Availability Heuristic: Understanding and Overcoming its Pitfalls

CoachHub · 30 January 2023 · 7 min read

There are certain aspects of life that we often do not think about. Most of us do not try to find the reasons behind a lot of the decisions we make. Yet, a closer look at our decisions over a period of time will show us a pattern that we may not have noticed in the first place. One of these patterns is called the availability heuristic and it has to do with a lot of choices we end up going with.

The common consensus for the availability heuristic is that it is not a big deal. We are very content with leaving things as they are. However, if you are reading this, then it means that you have already chosen to live a better life. This great step is what will open a door of knowledge that you never knew you needed. Over the course of this article, more and more will be revealed.

It can be said that the purpose of this article is not limited to one thing. We hope to educate you on everything that concerns the availability heuristic, including knowing if it is a good or bad thing to rely on. On top of this, we hope that you will be able to make better informed decisions in the future based on what is learned here. Knowing is not enough, practise also plays a key role, and there is a lot to practise, since we make decisions all the time.

Understanding the availability heuristic

What is the availability heuristic? It is simpler than it looks. A heuristic is more or less a shortcut to lead right to a much easier answer to a problem. It is normal for our brains to use heuristic as a tool (which is what they are) so that the brain does not overload. In this vein, the availability heuristic (also referred to as the availability bias) is a shortcut that we derive mentally, based on related topics in the past. On first glance, this seems harmless or maybe even helpful, but there is so much more to learn.

As a result of the memories we associate with one thing or the other, we use the availability heuristic to make most decisions. If we want to choose between two options, it is more likely for us to pick the option that we associate less harm to. What we fail to take into account is that our memories and therefore, our decisions, can be skewed sometimes.

One popular example of the availability heuristic is the fear of getting on aeroplanes. While there are admittedly some legitimate fears, a lot of people are afraid because of previous plane crashes. This is neglecting the fact that air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation. The impact of a plane crash in both the media and our minds makes us make the decision that travelling with a car is safer, even though it is the other way around. The availability bias seems logical, but it often isn’t, as most available heuristic examples will show.

availability heuristic

Pitfalls of the availability heuristic

It is important that we understand that the availability heuristic is a real problem. It is common for people to not even think of it as such, but there is so much harm that can happen. The decisions made because of the availability bias are often illogical and impractical. Sometimes, it is not even the fault of the individual, but it is the fault of how things are portrayed around them. These environmental and societal factors heavily bias decision making.

The media and technology around us plays a big role in how we develop the availability bias. What often makes the news are the extremes of what happens. As mentioned before, a plane crash is sure to be televised more widely than a motor accident. It turns our view to see more dangerous things as the normal options. We then forget the odds of dying or injury from things, in favour is the flashiest way of the same thing happening.

How the availability heuristic impacts our lives is very subtle. It enters our personal and professional lives, little bit little, until that is how we make our decisions. For example, if two employees suffer the same issue, the employers are more likely to pick the one who does not have a direct work history with themselves. This is because whatever mistake the employee may have made before will be fresh in their memory. It is unfair, especially when both are equally qualified with similar mistakes. Our personal lives are not spared either, because we give bad attributes to accidents of the past, instead of learning from them.

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Overcoming the pitfalls of the availability heuristic

It is often said that the first step towards solving a problem is when that problem is recognised. The same advice goes here as well. The hard part is knowing when you are using the availability heuristic in the first place. While this is the first hurdle, it is not insurmountable. It can be conquered too.

The main weapons to use in fighting against the availability heuristic are critical and logical thinking. These thought processes are ingrained in every single one of us, but we often make some decisions without even considering them. The shift from more emotional responses that are not thought through, to more thoroughly considered options, is the right way to go. We need to understand that there are a lot of perspectives out there other than our own. All of these need to be considered too, to make the most informed decisions possible.

We also need to practise all that has been taught. Constant practise and mindfulness will help us be more self-aware. The more self-aware we are, the easier it becomes to get rid of the availability heuristic all together. Once you consistently make a conscious effort to avoid this bias, it becomes a lot easier to do so. It is simple, but not quite as easy. Still, deciding to take this step will change any individual’s life. Results also show fairly quickly, so progress is soon to follow as well.

 

Digital coaching and the availability heuristic

All that we have discussed can easily seem overwhelming once any thought is put in. The availability heuristic is almost ingrained in our mind, so it will be a difficult thing to unlearn. There are factors, like how we often make choices as a result of our cognitive bias. Still, there is a reason to be happy, because of the chance to get a great digital coach that can easily help with overcoming this. A digital coach can help an individual learn how to improve their logical and critical reasoning in the right way.

Unlike research that is done in a broad sense, there is the added benefit of personalisation when a digital coach is involved. Whatever help the coach offers will definitely be tailored to the individual. Any issues the individual has with critical or logical thinking can be addressed properly. These are the tools needed to combat the availability bias, as well as overcoming the pitfalls it brings along with it.

There are a lot of situations where the availability heuristic can be defeated completely with the help of a seasoned digital coach. Since these are experts, they will find it a lot easier to get the relevant information needed. There are diverse forms of the availability heuristic, some of which are not easily accessible. This is not much of a problem for a digital coach. The individual purchasing their services can rest assured that their own perspectives will grow.

Conclusion

At this point, a lot has been learned about the availability heuristic. We know enough to understand that humans are prone to cognitive bias. As such, it is paramount that we can understand when we start making decisions that are heavily influenced by unreliable memories or feelings. The availability heuristic has the ability to cloud our judgement. Pushing it aside is the healthy thing to do.

You need to fully grasp the concept of the availability bias, as well as its examples. This is often where people meet their stumbling block, but that does not take anything away from the importance of this. It is possible to overcome the availability heuristic, it only needs to be understood first. This entails knowing how to avoid it when it comes to making any sort of memory based decision.

It is understandable to fall for the availability bias and use it as the main reasoning behind decisions. This heuristic is the default for quite a number of people and breaking out of the habit alone can not always be easy. The choice of a fantastic digital coach is what will make this process smoother. The best recommendation is for you to seek help from people who possess the necessary qualifications. Such important things as decision making should not be put in the wrong hands, even if those wrong hands are yours.

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Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specialises in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him travelling or listening to good music.

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