Usability Heuristics – Georgios Ardavanis (Ph.D.)

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Sometimes thinking is a bad idea. Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at a crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Thinking too much can kill inspiration. A fundamental paradox of human psychology is that thinking can be bad for human beings. When we follow our thoughts too closely, we can lose our bearings, as our inner chatter drowns out common sense. A study of shopping behavior found that the less information people were given about a brand of jam, the better the choice they made. When offered details of ingredients, they got befuddled by their options and ended up choosing a jam they did not like.

By listening to our instincts, we can tap into a kind of compressed wisdom. The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer argues that much of our behavior is based on sophisticated rules-of-thumb, or “heuristics.” A robot programmed to chase and catch a ball would need to compute a series of complex differential equations to track its trajectory. But baseball players do so by instinctively following simple rules: run in the right general direction, and adjust your speed to keep a constant angle between eye and ball.

To make good decisions in a complex world, Gigerenzer says, you have to be skilled at ignoring information. He found that a portfolio of stocks picked by people he interviewed in the street did better than those chosen by experts, because the pedestrians were using the “recognition heuristic,” and they picked companies they’d heard of, which was a better guide to future earnings.

Georgios Ardavanis – 11/12/2023



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