A heuristic3 is a method or process characterized by using "shortcuts" or commonsense rules in order to solve problems, most of the time in an efficient and effective manner.

The concept is normally used to describe both certain mental processing (in psychology) or certain computing processing (in computer science). In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules, hard-coded by evolutionary processes or learned, which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. These rules work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic errors or cognitive biases (Wikipedia, 20112). In computer science, […] a heuristic is a "rule of thumb," or a good guide to follow when making decisions […], but refers specifically to algorithms (TechTerms.com, 20111).

The use of heuristics can be seen in many places. For example, Wikipedia (20112) describes examples of heuristics in philosophy, law and engineering. Yet, all those are but examples of psychological heuristics, or the use of heuristics in "mental processing" in the fields of philosophy, law and engineering.

A similar thing could be said of computer science, indeed. The heuristics used in computer science simply reflect a psychological heuristic, that of the computer programer using a "rule of thumb" algorithm in the computer code he is writing. Yet, once the program runs, it does so independently of the programer, and the heuristic becomes a processing rule that the computer uses for its processing, and one which is independent of the psychological heuristic that started it.

Theoretical frame

In terms of theory and research, computer heuristics are not more than technological fixes. Psychological heuristics are the ones representing the scientific knowledge on the topic.

Some psychological heuristics:

  • Availability
  • Naive diversification
  • Escalation of commitment
  • Affect
  • Contagion
  • Effort
  • Familiarity
  • Fluency
  • Gaze
  • Peak-end rule
  • Recognition
  • Scarcity
  • Similarity
  • Simulation
  • Social proof
  • Take-the-best
1. TECHTERM.COM (2011). Heuristic. Retrieved from TechTerm.com on 17 February 2011.
2. WIKIPEDIA (2011). Heuristic. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 17 February 2011.
+++ Footnotes +++
3. APA: /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/

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