Suppressing Heuristics

The idea of human beings using heuristics isn’t a new concept. Our brain processes information either analytically or affectively (Refer to Epstein 19931). While the former is deliberate and slow, the latter is faster and relies on heuristics. The same heuristics that Shankar Vedantam refers to in the excerpt from the Hidden Brain. I actually want to get this off my chest early on. The excerpt from the Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam and was darker than my previous post about students with suicide plans. That was depressing. Geez!

Coming back to the topic at hand, heuristics help us respond faster in unfamiliar circumstances. Can’t decide on something? Let’s pick the middle most option available (Saini and Monga 20082 ). Human beings are prone to use heuristics in a variety of situations. Except when it is used on them. I am from India (read: I am brown) and am growing a beard (Abe Lincoln’s excuse: I have a weak chin). Many a times have I been told in restaurants that they serve halal meat. On the outside, I thank the host and the hostess, while I actually want to tell them to stop trying to use heuristics. This is when one realizes that heuristics are not all good.

An episode from my class further showed me that heuristics are not always correct. My early experiences with students from University sports teams have shown me that I need to spend more time with them on all aspects of the class. Talking about class, exams and keeping them on track with their final projects. And so in my last class I was pleasantly surprised when a student from the sports team turned out to be the best student in class. The student received the best grades in the midterms and finals and ended up having the best final project. That was when I decided to throw that heuristic out of the window. The thing about heuristics that people do not realize is that it is born out of experiences. It undergoes modifications throughout one’s life. In my case, I opted for the extreme case of totally over ruling my heuristic. And I intend for it to stay that way.


  1. Epstein, S. (1993). Implications of cognitive-experiential self-theory for personality and developmental psychology.
  2. Saini, R., & Monga, A. (2008). How I decide depends on what I spend: use of heuristics is greater for time than for money. Journal of Consumer Research34(6), 914-922.

P.S. For those of you wondering, I do know that Wladimir Klitschko has a doctorate and he could knock me and my heuristic, out, in the blink of an eye.