Reexamining our bias against heuristics

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2014 Aug;19(3):457-64. doi: 10.1007/s10459-014-9518-4. Epub 2014 Jun 3.


Using heuristics offers several cognitive advantages, such as increased speed and reduced effort when making decisions, in addition to allowing us to make decision in situations where missing data do not allow for formal reasoning. But the traditional view of heuristics is that they trade accuracy for efficiency. Here the authors discuss sources of bias in the literature implicating the use of heuristics in diagnostic error and highlight the fact that there are also data suggesting that under certain circumstances using heuristics may lead to better decisions that formal analysis. They suggest that diagnostic error is frequently misattributed to the use of heuristics and propose an alternative view whereby content knowledge is the root cause of diagnostic performance and heuristics lie on the causal pathway between knowledge and diagnostic error or success.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Diagnosis*
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Heuristics*
  • Humans