What is OpenPSYC?

OpenPSYC is a free online resource for students in Introduction to Psychology courses. Use the links on the right to learn more about the site, visit a course module or search by keyword.


With limited resources and a world full of information, brains have evolved to be efficient. When decisions are not important enough to allocate the resources necessary to think carefully about everything, we can use heuristics – mental shortcuts that help us make decisions quickly and with minimal cognitive effort. For example, people tend to assume that something that costs more money is of better quality than the less expensive alternative. After all, we have all heard the phrase “you pay for what you get.” Of course, it is not always true, but if you do not have the time to do all of the research, it is a way to make a quick decision about which brand to buy. Here are some specific heuristics that influence our judgments:

Availability Heuristic – To us a common example, would you guess there are more murders or more suicides in America each year? When asked, most people would guess there are more murders. In truth, there are twice as many suicides as there are murders each year. However, murders seem more common because we hear a lot more about murders on an average day. Unless someone we know or someone famous takes their own life, it does not make the news. Murders, on the other hand, we see in the news every day. So the rule of thumb is this: the easier it is to think of instances of something, the more often that thing occurs. Here is another great example:

Watch: Are Planes More Dangerous Than Cars? (http://youtu.be/2WjM_YwpGao)

Now try out a quick demonstration that shows how estimations are influence by the availability of information

Visit: Availability Heuristic (http://goo.gl/bG6h4T)

Representativeness Heuristic – This rule of thumb applies to judgments about which category something belongs in. For example, you might look at the way someone is dressed and make instant judgments about their intelligence, friendliness, and sexual preference. In other words, which category does this instance best represent? Try out a quick demonstration that shows how we tend to base decisions on how representative an item is of a category:

Visit: Representativeness Heuristic (http://goo.gl/crs7Uo)