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Availability, Cognitive

Rainer Greifeneder and Herbert Bless


The term “availability heuristic” refers to a judgmental rule of thumb for estimating frequencies and probabilities. It states that individuals determine frequencies and probabilities “by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind” ( Tversky & Kahneman 1973 , 207). The logic underlying the availability heuristic holds that frequent and probable events are well represented in memory and are therefore easy to retrieve. Reversing this link, the experienced ease associated with retrieving specific events from memory can be used as an indicator for the frequency and probability of events. For example, when asked how many different game shows are currently aired on TV, one may determine how easy or difficult pertaining instances can be recalled and base the judgment on the experienced ease or difficulty associated with this recall (“If it so easy to recall examples of different game shows, then there must be many”). The availability heuristic generally yields accurate results since frequent events are better represented in memory than infrequent ones. However, when experiences of ease or difficulty are influenced by factors other than frequency of prior exposure, the availability heuristic may be misleading. In particular, events are also more easily recalled the more recently the event occurred or was otherwise activated (recency effect), the more attention they received ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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