Heuristics

Heuristics

from the Greek heurískō “find”, “discover”.

Every second we are exposed to a huge amount of data. The human mind, when processing data and making decisions, especially in situations of risk and excessive or incomplete information, does not appeal to its rationality, but relies on rules called “heuristics”, even when it has to evaluate the likelihood of events. In fact, many decisions are made based on beliefs concerning the probability that a given event will take place. And the more we operate in conditions of uncertainty, the easier it is to rely on mental strategies, on unintentional deviations that allow us to simplify the process of analysing and processing the data necessary to make choices and decisions.

These are thinking shortcuts, simplified cognitive mechanisms that do not require complex mental processes and they allow us, in many cases, to make rational choices. This allows our mind to save energy and time in taking a decision or making a choice. The point is that heuristics lead to serious and systematic errors since heuristics do not respect all the steps of logical reasoning but jump directly to conclusions. During this simplified process, a certain amount of data will be lost, and we will anchor our assessments to the available information, ignoring the fact that it is partial or not completely correct with respect to a specific goal or context.

This is the reason it is important to know ourselves, to know how we make decisions, in which contexts we tend to simplify reasoning, to identify who is next to us – when we have to choose which direction to take – and who may have a negative influence on our decision-making process.

Knowing ourselves serves to build metacognitive strategies that are useful not for eliminating but for reducing the cases in which we make decisions by relying on snap judgements and simplified and incorrect impressions.
We rely so much – without knowing it – on our systematic errors and our imperfection that (beautiful paradox) we think we are immune and that we do not need to accept, understand and exploit our perfectibility to make wise decisions.