Heuristics and HR professionals

Heuristics are judgmental/mental shortcuts that help us to solve problems/take decisions fast, but at times can result in errors. Though prone to errors, heuristics are useful because they reduce efforts and simplify decision making.

Psychologists Tversky and Daniel Kahneman did extensive research on heuristics esp. of representativeness heuristics ex. when people rely on representativeness to make judgments; they are likely to judge wrongly because the fact that something is more representative does not make it more likely.


Tversky and Kahneman gave two such examples.

In first example, they gave description of a person called Tom to group of students, based on description they were asked to predict whether Tom will major in Engineering or Psychology.

Description was as follows…

“Tom W. is of high intelligence, although lacking in true creativity. He has a need for order and clarity and for neat and tidy systems in which every detail finds its appropriate place. His writing is rather dull and mechanical, occasionally enlivened by somewhat corny puns and by flashes of imagination of the sci-fi type. He has a strong drive for competence. He seems to feel little sympathy for other people and does not enjoy interacting with others. Self-centred, he nonetheless has a deep moral sense.”

Majority felt that Tom will major in Engineering. Though statistically his chances of joining either of streams is equal i.e. .5. This happened because group used heuristics (and not statistics) to reach conclusion.

Another example is of lady called Linda.

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Which is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Majority of those asked chose option 2. However the probability of two events occurring together is always less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

Let use bit of statistics here (I know HR professionals don’t like statistics)
Event A= Linda is a bank teller
Event B= Linda is feminist
So probability of Linda being bank teller and feminist (using multiplication rule) is P (A and B) = P (A) X P (B)

Let us assume P (A) is very low say .1, and probability of B is high say .9, then probability of A & B is .09 which is lower than P (B) or P (A), yet people went for second option.

This was again due to representativeness heuristics, as in minds of people description of Linda represented feminist.


All of us use heuristics in our personal and professional life. HR professionals tend to use it when they read CVs, take interviews, appraise employees etc. It is something they should guard against and at the same time should make functional manager aware of.



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