8 Types of Heuristics
John Spacey, March 12, 2016 updated on March 18, 2021
A heuristic is a practical approach to intelligence that isn't guaranteed to be optimal or accurate. Humans naturally use heuristics in cognition to overcome processing limitations of the brain by creating approximations. Similar approaches are taken in science and computing to calculate answers that are reasonably accurate. Heuristics can be several orders of magnitude faster than calculating an exact answer to a problem. The following are common types of heuristics.
AlgorithmsIt is common for algorithms to be heuristics that approximate solutions to complex problems. For example, a search engine algorithm may accept search terms and determine the most relevant match from a very large number of documents. This requires a heuristic because there is no universally correct answer to a search and even if there was it would likely take too long to calculate.
Cognitive BiasesCognitive biases are patterns of thought that tend to lead to suboptimal results. In many cases, cognitive biases result from highly inaccurate heuristics.
Educated GuessThe ability to develop a theory about something when information is missing typically requires a heuristic approach.
IntuitionIntuition is a type of high speed judgment that originates in the subconscious. It isn't well understood but appears to be heuristic in nature.
Rule Of ThumbA heuristic that is consciously adopted to solve problems and make decisions.
Situational IntelligenceA type of intelligence that is used to make decisions in fast moving situations such as driving a car. Heavily relies on heuristics due to the short time frames involved.
Social HeuristicThe tendency for people to use social information in decision making and problem solving. Social information is often vague and non-specific meaning that it typically requires a heuristic to interpret.
StereotypesA stereotype is a generalization that isn't necessarily accurate but may be useful nonetheless. For example, a person may have a stereotype that all potato chips are too salty. It's not always true but it may aid the person's decision making nonetheless. The term stereotype generally has a negative connotation as it's associated with particularly negative cognitive biases.
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