By NANCY STEPHANI

Shortcuts. Those of us who live and/or work in Hancock County have our favorites and have found new ones this past year, given all the road construction we’ve had to deal with.

Our brain finds shortcuts as well, helping us to make decisions without even giving deliberate thought to them.

Social psychology folks call these mental shortcuts or rules heuristics. While I am not a social psychologist, I understand that heuristics are what experts tell us to be any approach to problem solving, learning or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, logical or rational, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal. It offers ways to speed up the process and is also called “rule of thumb,” “guesstimate,” “profiling” or “common sense” depending on your perspective or what sort of decision you are making.

Nobel-winning psychologist Herbert Simon suggested that humans are subject to certain limitations like time and effort along with factors such as intelligence and accuracy of our perceptions.

Perceptions differ from person to person. For example, when I was 4 years old, snow was frequently waist-deep!

Research continued in the 1970s with Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who studied biases about how we make judgments.

There is simply not enough time to thoroughly research every decision. We make too many of them, from what to wear, what to eat, what project to work on, what subject to study, what to name our child or who to vote for. While some judgments we make require a more thorough examination — such as what car to buy, where to live, what house to purchase — most of our decisions don’t warrant intense effort and we use these mental shortcuts automatically.

The problem is that those shortcuts are sometimes biased, incomplete or just plain wrong.

Psychologists tell us that we use heuristics because they are frequently accurate and they are fast. They help make difficult decisions simple. We make thousands of decisions every day; anything that can make this faster and easier is appreciated!

So, what are some of the ones we use?

We rely on past experience “” if something was true or worked in the past, we presume it will work today.

If someone reminds us of someone we love or trust, like a favorite teacher or someone we admire from the media, we are likely to trust them because of the familiarity. This may or may not be accurate, as news of media stars so readily points out, but that is not where our mind goes first.

We tend to believe people who are confident, even in the face of evidence that they are not telling the truth. If we hear information often enough and from a confident person, we tend to want to believe it and, eventually, we do.

We also tend to trust people who are tall. Go figure.

There are many different kinds of heuristics and they are very useful. The important thing is to remember that these are shortcuts. They can lead to bias because they don’t allow you to see the full picture. And, if you get a nagging feeling that your hunch or gut instinct is not right, do some more research.

If you need someone to help you sort out a big life decision or you find yourself making a series of wrong ones, seek some support from someone whose wisdom you trust.

If you need someone more objective, consider talking to a therapist to sort things out. We are here to help.

Stephani, coordinator of emergency services at Century Health, is a licensed independent social worker supervisor. She is on professional staff at Ohio State University at Lima.

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