“The attention which we lend to an experience is proportional to its vivid or interesting character, and it is a notorious fact that what interests us most vividly at the time is, other things equal, what we remember best.”
It is a field of study bringing together knowledge from psychology and economics to reveal how real people behave in the real world.
We tend to judge the likelihood and significance of things based on how easily they come to mind. The more “available” a piece of information is to us, the more important it seems.
The result is that we give greater weight to information we learned recently because a news article you read last night comes to mind easier than a science class you took years ago. We also give greater weight to information that is shocking or unusual. Shark attacks and plane crashes strike us more than accidental drowning or car accidents, so we overestimate their odds.
There’s a reason why cultures around the world teach important life lessons and values through fables, fairy tales, myths, proverbs, and stories.
There is no real link between how memorable something is and how likely it is to happen. In fact, the opposite is often true. Unusual events stand out more and receive more attention than commonplace ones. As a result, the availability heuristic skews our perception of risks in two key ways:
We overestimate the likelihood of unlikely events. And we underestimate the likelihood of likely events.
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