Heuristics add bias to decisions.Light is good & Dark is bad.

Yin Yang

We as humans make a number of decisions daily. These could range from simplistic ones like which hand to use when opening the door to more complex decisions like aircraft operations with a technical defect. Are these intuitive decisions that we make correctly, just because they did not lead to an occurrence? Choice between Light & dark, cold & warm, up & down are some of them.

We make 226.7 decisions each day on just food alone according to researchers at Cornell University.

Safety & Decision making

From the safety perspective, everything is under control so long there is no accident/incident. An investigation is launched the moment an accident/incident takes place to determine the root cause/s. Therefore the intent is not to understand why similar events which take place daily did not end up in an accident/incident but the intent is to determine what led to the event. The key difference is that when things go on well, we do not try to determine why things are going on well or are they going on as well as we had though but we wake up when they end up in an occurrence.

If we focus on the time there is no accident/incident, there are a number of decisions we take which are either deliberated or intuitively. The effect of Heuristics in decision making plays an important role.

What is Heuristics?

Heuristics are simple rules of thumbs for problem solving that follow a logic that is quite different from consequential logic. They have long been regarded, as an inferior technique for decision making that is the source of
irrational decision behavior.

Heuristics & Bias

Because we seldom know the exact probability that would lead to the best outcome, we tend to apply certain heuristics from judgment of likelihood.(J. G. March, A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen)

Heuristics are “the general problem solving strategies that we apply for certain classes of situations”; they are the rule of thumb for calculating
certain kinds of numbers or solving certain problems. They can also be interpreted as rules following behavior that pursue a logic quite different than the consequential logic. (N. Khatri and H. Alvin, “The role of intuition in strategic decision making,” Human Relations, vol. 53, 2000)

Visceral Heuristics

The visceral heuristic links the physical sensation of cold to the emotion called loneliness.

That has to do with the earliest days of human development. Infants, to survive, have to be warmed by their mother. You can also see this with experiments and games in the laboratory: You create a scenario in which some people will be shunned (like being picked last on a team). The ones that are excluded choose hot beverages after the game is over.

Another part of visceral heuristic involves the term “embodied cognition” — we associate cleanliness with moral purity. If someone lies on a voice mail, they seek mouthwash afterward. They want to purify their mouths. If someone lies by e-mail, they seek hand washing afterward, or hand-wash wipes. This was a study at the University of Michigan. Excerpt From: Wray Herbert. “On Second Thought.” iBooks.

Mimicry Heuristics

“Each of the participants worked harder when paired with someone else, exerting more force on the crank than when they worked solo.”

“participants consistently did better working together than either of them did working alone. The physical resistance that they felt the other exerting was real, but it was somehow contributing to their shared success. The researchers speculate that the two participants’ physical contact, even though it was by way of a mechanical device, acted as an effective form of communication.”

“This mundane activity illustrates an important point—that the mimicry heuristic acts constantly and out of awareness. ”

Excerpt From: Wray Herbert. “On Second Thought.” iBooks.

Default Heuristics

“Given the option of deciding or not deciding, deciding is always the far more difficult and effortful choice. It’s cognitively wearying to study options and make choices—literally, much like lifting weights—so it’s much more efficient most of the time to simply not decide, to punt, to stick with the status quo, norms, traditions.
Defaulting is one of the simpler cognitive tools we have at our disposal, but that does not mean it isn’t powerful in its effects.”

“About 28 percent of Americans are potential organ donors. That is, if they died tragically today, their kidneys, liver, and other organs would be available to the long list of people waiting for transplants. In France, 99.9 percent of the citizens are potential donors. Why would this be? Do the French have a particular character trait that predisposes them to give? Is their early moral training superior to ours? Is there perhaps an altruism gene that runs in the French population?
Well, it’s likely none of those. The answer is almost certainly much simpler. In most states in the United States, the default position for organ donation is no donation. That is, you must actively choose to be a donor by signing something. You must make the effort of deciding. In France it’s the opposite. Unless you make the effort to opt out, you are by default an organ donor. And because it’s easier for the brain to default than not, most of us don’t stop to weigh such choices or to question such policies. As a result, it’s better to have kidney failure in Paris than in Washington, D.C.
Because the default heuristic basically means doing nothing, most of the time we don’t even know we’re making a choice or decision. Yet we are—probably many times every day. ”

Excerpt From: Wray Herbert. “On Second Thought.” iBooks.

mindFly analysis

We may think that most of the intuitive decisions are safe just because it did not cause any harm. However, the decision may not have been the best decision had we applied more time and reasoning. Putting effort does drain the cognitive bank and eventually make the body tired besides being time consuming. We consider giving a warm hug good and could shoulder bad.

It is therefore imperative to understand that the heuristics, based on which we take decisions are biased and have the potential to have adverse effect on the final outcome. If we have to study from the safety perspective about the events that we do everyday and do not end up in an occurrence, we must also keep in mind that these event may be biased but safe. They may be safe but not efficient and may have a tendency to lean towards the border of being unsafe.

The day there is a combination of events or the environment becomes adverse, these heuristics may lead to unwarranted events affecting safety.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am https://www.linkedin.com/in/traintofly/ Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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