The Availability Heuristic Concept


Throughout life, people tend to draw on their experiences in order to better understand a situation or enhance their achievement in some field. Such experiences are called biases or heuristics, and scholars differ in their opinions of whether these are good or bad. The target example for the paper involves the availability heuristic presented in the lecture: the assumption that issues easily brought to mind are more probable.

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What is not clearly understood about the target example is why vivid problems and emotional reactions are easier to bring to memory. The base example is an analysis of the probability of certain happenings with the help of environment and experience (Davies). The transfer of knowledge from the base example to the target will promote understanding of people’s tendency toward establishing biases or making assumptions.

Main body

As Davies remarks, observation of the environment previously served as a basis for predictions and judgments long before statistics were invented. However, even at the present time, people have not fixed on using biases to evaluate probability. A person who repeatedly notices some object or event will tend to think that it is more probable and common. Then, to gauge the frequency of observation, a person may evaluate how easily the subject is brought to mind.

In cognitive psychological terms, the individual needs to assess how available an idea is in his or her mind; thus, the availability heuristic is deployed. The mechanisms of the brain responsible for warning individuals about danger work quickly. However, given a choice, it is more likely for a person to choose confirmatory data than to search for reasons to discredit assumptions (Swart, Chisholm, & Brown, 2015). Therefore, the availability heuristic can explain choices made with the help of sensory perception.

However, reasoning may work differently, depending on whether the individual evaluates his or her own experience or that of others. As Davies mentions in his book, it is possible for a person to recollect not only his or her own experiences but also those reported by other individuals. With the help of communication technology, it has become possible not only to read about events but also to see them on the Internet or on television.

Davies emphasizes that because of the relatively short existence of video recording, people have not developed any lie filters for it. Thus, most people watching online news reports tend to believe that the events they are observing are taking place straight before their eyes. Along with news issues, social media platforms play a significant role in shaping people’s views of situations (Imran, Castillo, Diaz, & Vieweg, 2015). Therefore, a combination of the availability heuristic and mass media communication can lead to a misinterpreted vision of the world.

Davies emphasizes that people’s predisposition to overestimate the likelihood of certain negative events is closely related to the availability heuristic. For example, the more that negative statistics are shown on the news, the more likely people are to believe they are at risk of being impacted by the reported negative phenomenon. Davies provides an example of how women in their forties exaggerate the probability of having breast cancer due to the numerous news reports about this disease.

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Research by McDowell, Occhipinti, and Chambers (2013) indicates the same concerns in the case of men and their risk of prostate cancer. Such factors as family history and social environment can have a profound effect on people. Also, as Davies observes, it is easier for individuals to remember emotional subjects. Thus, the availability heuristic makes people focus on negative ideas and attribute these occurrences to themselves even if, in fact, the probability of having some disease or getting in an accident is relatively low.

Another aspect of the transfer of knowledge from base to target example concerns people’s perceptions of news items, particularly those that discuss such negative issues as pollution and crime. Davies notes that the major problem here lies in the spirit of competitiveness that exists among different news channels. Because people prefer to hear and watch fascinating stories, news programs are motivated to cover compelling dramatic issues rather than uninteresting realistic ones.

As Davies remarks, modern news issues must compete not only with other news but also with different kinds of media that have the sole purpose of entertainment. Thus, the base example argues that practically no difference exists between reading or watching the news and reading a book or watching a film. On a related note, research by Taylor, de Bruin, and Dessai (2014) indicates that people’s perceptions of natural disasters and weather-related changes are also affected by the availability heuristic. Therefore, individuals’ experiences are not the only ways of perceiving a situation since the media and the environment play an important role in the formation of their perceptions.

Proceeding with his analysis of the availability heuristic and its role in shaping people’s assumptions, Davies asserts that the description of uncommon events in the news causes individuals to believe that such happenings are common. Moreover, the more scary or dramatic the information, the more likely a viewer will be to think that these types of occurrences are frequent. When news is emotionally charged, or when it depicts cruelty, it is easier to remember.

As a consequence, an individual will assume that such events are not rare and will therefore live in fear of them happening. Moser et al. (2015) remark that after a person witnesses an emotionally charged interaction, he or she is likely to perceive the danger of assault. This observation is supported in the base example: Davies mentions that cruelty and sex render news more exciting and memorable. Thus, when such stories are reflected in the media, the availability heuristic causes people to consider these events to be common. In turn, individuals are eager to learn more about the news, and this leads to viewers’ growing accustomed to such events. Later, the media will come to invent another sensation to excite and scare people again.


The availability heuristic is an important concept that, when understood, helps to explain people’s tendencies to believe. The target example in this paper was the concept of the availability heuristic as depicted in the lecture. The base example was the analysis Davies provided in his book regarding the concept. The transfer of knowledge from the base to the target example was focused on the aim of explaining why emotionally charged subjects are easier to bring to memory. The data found in the base example, as well as in additional resources, helped to explain why individuals tend to pay more attention to negative ideas and how they gradually start to perceive such events and actions as habitual.


Imran, M., Castillo, C., Diaz, F., & Vieweg, S. (2015). Processing social media messages in mass emergency. ACM Computing Surveys, 47(4), 1-38.

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McDowell, M. E., Occhipinti, S., & Chambers, S. K. (2013). The influence of family history on cognitive heuristics, risk perceptions, and prostate cancer screening behavior. Health Psychology, 32(11), 1158-1169.

Moser, D. A., Aue, T., Suardi, F., Kutlikova, H., Cordero, M. I., Rossignol, A. S., … Schechter, D. S. (2015). Violence-related PTSD and neural activation when seeing emotionally charged male–female interactions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(5), 645-653.

Swart, T., Chisholm, K., & Brown, P. (2015). Neuroscience for leadership: Harnessing the brain gain advantage. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Taylor, A., de Bruin, W. B., & Dessai, S. (2014). Climate change beliefs and perceptions of weather-related changes in the United Kingdom. Risk Analysis, 34(11), 1995-2004.

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