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Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition

Judgment and Decision Making

Judgment and Decision Making is the eleventh program in the Discovering Psychology series. This program looks at the process of making decisions and judgments, how and why people make different choices, the factors that influence decisions, and the psychology of risk-taking.

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Test Yourself: Decision Making and the Availability Heuristic

In this program, psychologist Daniel Kahneman conducts a study illustrating the availability heuristic, a way of deciding the frequency or probability of an event based on information the mind can imagine or retrieve. Often, this method is useful in making estimates and predictions. Sometimes, however, the availability heuristic can lead you astray.

Test yourself on the following questions about death probability from psychologist and author Scott Plous.

1) Which is a more likely cause of death in the United States: being killed by falling airplane parts or being killed by a shark?
Answer:

2) Do more Americans die from a) homicide and car accidents, or b) diabetes and stomach cancer?
Answer:

3) Which claims more lives in the United States: lightning or tornadoes?
Answer:

Adapted from The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, by Scott Plous. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 1993

View Answers to Test Yourself Questions

1) Which is a more likely cause of death in the United States: being killed by falling airplane parts or being killed by a shark?

Answer: In the United States, the chance of dying from falling airplane parts is 30 times greater than dying from a shark attack. Because shark attacks receive more publicity and because they are easier to imagine (after seeing the film Jaws, for example), most people rate shark attacks as the more probable cause of death. Since information about shark attacks is more readily available, the availability heuristic helps explain why people overestimate the chances of dying in this unusual way.

2) Do more Americans die from a) homicide and car accidents, or b) diabetes and stomach cancer?

Answer: More Americans die from diabetes and stomach cancer than from homicide and car accidents, by a ratio of nearly 2:1. Many people guess homicide and car accidents, largely due to the publicity they receive and in turn, their availability in the mind.

3) Which claims more lives in the United States: lightning or tornadoes?

Answer: More Americans are killed annually by lightning than by tornadoes. Because tornadoes are often preceded by warnings, drills, and other kinds of publicity, the most common answer is tornadoes. The large amount of information about tornadoes, coupled with the availability heuristic, leads to the misconception that tornadoes are a more frequent cause of death.

Adapted from The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, by Scott Plous. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 1993

Glossary

Availability Heuristic: A general principle used in reasoning under conditions of uncertainty; based on dependence on one’s personal experiences.

Cognitive Dissonance: The theory that tension is created between what we think and what we do, and that the discontent created motivates groups or individuals to reduce that tension in whatever way necessary.

Cognitive Illusion: An error in judgment caused by a systematic way of thinking.

Group Think: The tendency of a decision-making group to filter out undesirable input in order to reach a consensus, especially if it is in accordance with the leader’s viewpoint.

Mind Guarding: The tendency for members of a group to protect the leader or other decision-makers from input that might influence the leaders to change their minds or raise questions, therefore disrupting the harmony of the organization.

Units