Why Representativeness Heuristics Keeps Us From Being More Insightful

Why Representativeness Heuristics Keeps Us From Being More Insightful

In whom do you put your trust?

In today's civil and political unrest we are finding that our trust has often been misplaced. However, is that really surprising?

Too often our trust is abused and violated and people lash out at us or we lash out because our emotions and feelings become overstimulated and we become dysregulated.

What should have been an exchange of ideas has become an exchange of hateful or hurtful emotions.

In other words, there is no peace. I'm convinced people are seeking that very thing - peace. A stillness that lets us live in harmony with nature and with others.

Unfortunately, we have to deal with different personalities, perspectives, and problems. Sometimes our preconceived notions and stereotypes prevent us from getting beyond the obvious differences between two people.

They can cause us to put people in a box and keep us from seeing the truth that is staring us right in the face.

I’m sure there are different names for this truth, but it is sometimes referred to as “representativeness heuristic.”

Verywellmind.com says, “The representativeness heuristic involves estimating the likelihood of an event by comparing it to an existing prototype that already exists in our minds. This prototype is what we think is the most relevant or typical example of a particular event or object. The problem with this is that people often overestimate the similarity between the two things they are comparing.”

In my speaking, consulting, and advocacy work, I’ve been focusing on three keys to better leadership: trauma, trust, and hope. I believe representativeness heuristic is what we do when we take mental shortcuts in order to process information quickly. Often, that can be helpful in a world with so much information.

However, as we’ve discussed before when it comes to neuroscience and bias, how we see the world is often not how the world really is.

If we want to see trauma, trust, and hope for what they really are and offer, then we need to be open to the idea that what we think is true, may actually just be our mind playing mental tricks on us.

We may not immediately know the answer to the yet asked question, “What happened to you?” Therefore, we need to explore the potential for multiple possibilities and not just rely on our tired and oversimplified paradigms.

When we get tired of looking elsewhere for peace; when people we love have abused and mistreated us since childhood; when we are angry with life and afraid, we can find solace in the knowledge there are people who are actively seeking to bring understanding and insights into the challenges too many people face.

Today, find peace in knowing that you are not alone in the work you are trying to do and that what you value as important, moral, and worthy is just that. We may be at different places in our lives, our beliefs, and our goals; however, we can all work towards the things that bring us hope, trust, and peace if we are willing to see the world with fresh eyes and not with blind shortcuts.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

We all have our favorites; books that grabbed our attention, smacked us with their truth, and changed how we saw the world.

Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind, is one of those books.

While the subtitle asserts that good people are divided by politics and religion, those topics are minimal in the scope of the entire book.

Haidt seeks to provide a clearer picture on how the mind works. He also provides a useful framework of how people understand different moral values that appear across cultures and political parties.

I found his overall theme to be extremely enlightening and helpful. He argues that we give our emotions and intuition far more weight than we do reason. He says our judgements are made instantly based on our feelings.

As a visual example, he uses the metaphor of an elephant to represent these feelings. While the elephant (feelings) is in control (because it is huge), it is steered by a small little rider (our rational mind or reason) who is doing his or her best to move the elephant in the best direction.

If we want to change someone’s mind and bring them around to our thoughts and beliefs, we must talk to the elephant through the rider. And that’s just… hard. Why? Because people are often moved by their feelings and not by your reasons.

However, if we are going to live and work together peacefully, we have to do the hard work. Haidt’s book helps us understand why and how to do just that.

Explore options for reading the book from Amazon: The Righteous Mind.

Cautionary Tales podcast by Tim Harford

Cautionary Tales podcast by Tim Harford

Harold Shipman was an English doctor who practiced general medicine from the early 1970s through the late 1990s.

He was also one of the world’s most prolific serial killers.

Over the past year, I have been enjoying Tim Harford’s podcast, Cautionary Tales. His insights into how we often fail prey to our own weaknesses and blind spots have helped me be more … cautionary … in how I see the world.

As Harford explains in this episode, the focus is not on trying to understand why Shipman killed an estimated 250 people, but the fact that Shipman’s crimes would have been exposed years before if people had simply believed the statistical data.

This cautionary tale is about how our brain creates shortcuts based on limited information resulting in incorrect conclusions. In other words, descriptions we hear about people often contribute to our forming invalid stereotypes. And as Mr. Harford explains in the podcast, this can be particularly dangerous when it comes to substance abuse by all different types of people. The science is called representativeness heuristics.

To listen to the podcast episode on Apple: 4. Catching a Killer Doctor

Photo of "Crisis and Typewriter" by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.