Monday, December 13, 2021

Heuristic of the Week: Biases due to "Retrievability"


Are more women axe murderers than men?

You would probably have to think about it. Lizzie Borden was a famous axe murderer and tilts our assessment because we can "retrieve" that information.

Do more people die from house-fires or bee-stings? Alligator and rattlesnake attacks or sepsis?

Does the fact that a winning lottery ticket is much more memorable than all of the scratch-off tickets that you bought and did not win, does that modify your decision-making process when you pass the counter at the convenience store? You bet it can.

While it is useful to understand that retrievability is a tide that always pushes your ship toward the rocks, the usefulness does not end there.

Tapping into "retrievability" is useful when it comes to modifying the behaviors of others. Math and statistics are dull and boring. A arguments that references blood, guts, recent violent deaths and deep cultural myths will have much more traction than mathy arguments. 

The anti-smoking campaign is a great example of using retrievability to bend opinions. 

Who can forget the adds of the Intensive Care Unit where every bed held a middle-aged man on a ventilator and every bed had a cowboy hat and lariat hung on its bedpost? Who can forget the picture of the rotisserie chicken with the hat, sunglasses and the cigarette sticking out of the bung-hole?


  1. Ah yes, targeting of ads to 'make a point'... sigh

    1. Every anti smoking ad could be cost effectively photo shopped into an anti vax ad.

      Just sayin'.


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