Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Discovering Psychology logo
Program 11: Decision and Judgment Making
History of Psychology
Research Methods
The Human Brain
Human Development
Therapeutic Approaches
link to Series Glossary
link to Series Glossary
Link to Series Who's Who

Judgement and Decision Making is the eleventh program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program looks at the process of making decisions and judgements, how and why people make different choices, the factors that influence decisions, and the psychology of risk taking.


Test Yourself: Decision Making and the Availability Heuristic

In this program, psychologist Daniel Kahneman conducts a study illustrating the availability heuristic, a way of deciding the frequency or probability of an event based on information the mind can imagine or retrieve. Often, this method is useful in making estimates and predictions. Sometimes, however, the availability heuristic can lead you astray.

Test yourself on the following questions about death probability from psychologist and author Scott Plous.

1) Which is a more likely cause of death in the United States: being killed by falling airplane parts or being killed by a shark?



In the United States, the chance of dying from falling airplane parts is 30 times greater than dying from a shark attack. Because shark attacks receive more publicity and because they are easier to imagine (after seeing the film Jaws, for example), most people rate shark attacks as the more probable cause of death. Since information about shark attacks is more readily available, the availability heuristic helps explain why people overestimate the chances of dying in this unusual way.  

2) Do more Americans die from a) homicide and car accidents, or b) diabetes and stomach cancer?



More Americans die from diabetes and stomach cancer than from homicide and car accidents, by a ratio of nearly 2:1. Many people guess homicide and car accidents, largely due to the publicity they receive and in turn, their availability in the mind.  

3) Which claims more lives in the United States: lightning or tornadoes?



More Americans are killed annually by lightning than by tornadoes. Because tornadoes are often preceded by warnings, drills, and other kinds of publicity, the most common answer is tornadoes. The large amount of information about tornadoes, coupled with the availability heuristic, leads to the misconception that tornadoes are a more frequent cause of death.   

Adapted from The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, by Scott Plous. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 1993



© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy