Shortcuts in Judgment

Posted on April 23, 2013 by TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd) are often presented with situations that require a decision with little available information. For example, hiring managers must make quick and accurate decisions regarding who would be best to hire for an open position. In circumstances such as these, heuristics often come into effect. Heuristics are a part of normal human judgment and decision making in that they serve as a cognitive shortcut to arriving at a solution (Bazerman & Moore, 2008). While sometimes using heuristics can be a good thing, such as a situation in which an employee chooses a future employer based on the company’s reputation in order to ensure a good fit, heuristics can also lead to unintentional bias which in turn leads to poor decisions. One type of heuristic is called the “availability heuristic” in which one makes a judgment based on the availability of relevant data.

One of the methods I employ to reduce the risk of succumbing to this bias now and in the future includes taking care to consider exact statistics. Using statistics provides useful tools for avoiding irrational judgments associated with the different forms of bias. Another way I try to reduce my risk of falling victim to the availability heuristic is to evaluate information I read with a critical eye. For example, a common misconception due to the availability heuristic is that of the perceived safety of airplane travel. Even if one does not witness events like plane crashes oneself, any media portrayal of a plane crash makes that event very salient in one’s mind and easier to recall when considering prevalence of transportation accidents. Finally, avoiding poor judgments due to heuristics can be done through increasing one’s accountability. That is, if a manager knows she will be evaluated based on her decisions, she will be more likely to devote more time and resources into making an educated choice rather than a rushed one.

This can be important with regard to performance appraisal because managers are likely to rate employees based on information that is easiest to recall rather than the most pertinent information. If the manager feels very accountable for this rating (i.e., if the employees can see and discuss their own performance with the manager after the rating), then the manager may be more likely to deeply consider the entire span of the employee’s performance instead of the most memorable or most recent events.

Do you have an example of a time when the availability heuristic occurred at work? What happened and what was the outcome?


Bazerman, M. H., & Moore, D. A. (2008). Judgment in managerial decision making. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

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