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date: 21 January 2018


A Dictionary of Psychology

Andrew M. Colman

heuristic n. 

A rough-and-ready procedure or rule of thumb for making a decision, forming a judgement, or solving a problem without the application of an algorithm or an exhaustive comparison of all available options, and hence without any guarantee of obtaining a correct or optimal result. The concept can be traced to the work of the US political scientist and decision theorist Herbert A(lexander) Simon (1916–2001) who first suggested in 1957 that human decision makers with bounded rationality use such procedures when thorough examination of all available options is infeasible. The German psychologists Karl Duncker (1903–40) and Wolfgang Köhler (1887–1967) had earlier interpreted the term more closely to its Greek roots to denote ‘serving to find out or discover’. The concept was reintroduced into psychology in the early 1970s by the Israeli‐American psychologists Amos Tversky (1937–96) and Daniel Kahneman (born 1934), and the most important heuristics initially identified and studied by them were the anchoring and adjustment heuristic, the availability heuristic, and the representativeness heuristic. Also called a cognitive heuristic. See also base-rate fallacy, cancellation heuristic, dual-process model, means–end analysis, recognition heuristic, regression fallacy, sample size fallacy, satisficing, simulation heuristic. Compare algorithm. heuristic adj. [From Greek heuriskein to find]