A literature review on Availability Heuristics


The availability heuristic is a type of mental shortcut adopted by humans when making judgments, choices, and decisions. The mental shortcut is usually based on the knowledge that readily comes to minds rather than after examining all the alternatives. This knowledge generally is emerged from perceived stereotypes or past experiences that mark an influence on one’s present or future thoughts. This literature review analyzes this psychological concept through the findings of the experimenters included under the headings of the three empirical articles.

Literature review

McKelvie (1995a) presented the effects of fame on gender and the estimated incidence of male and female names. For the purpose of reaching a conclusion of this, Stuart J. McKelvie from Bishop’s University, Canada conducted a series of experiments. He chose a sample from the list of Canadian undergraduates and in the two experiments that he carried out on them, he made the students hear a list of 13 male names and 13 female names who then had to estimate the number of male names and female names, as per they heard.

The Experiment 1 intended to examine the effect of male-fame stereotypes through lists containing names of either all famous names or all non-famous names. He, therefore, predicted that both men and women would give a higher estimate for male than female names when all names were famous. However, the results of the experiment contradicted this hypothesis when the participants did not give a higher estimate for men’s names than for women’s names. Although, when the names of the gender were called out by classifying them, there were discrepancies in the form of women estimating that there were more men’s than women’s names, this does not justify the typical male-fame stereotype since the effect occurred with famous and non-famous names both and did not happen with men.

On the other hand, Experiment 2 was carried out with lists of famous men and non-famous women or famous women or non-famous men to reexamine the effects of fame on frequency estimates, of own-gender bias and male-fame stereotypes. The purpose of the analysis was to evaluate the major effect of fame of name and unimportant relationships between fame and list and between gender of participant and list. It was predicted that the results of the experiment would indicate that the participants place high numerical value on the gender that was famous, and in fact, the results turned out to be supporting this thesis.

Additionally, the results complement the findings of Experiment 1 over the male-fame stereotypes and own-gender bias by proving the insignificance of these theories in real life, furthermore. Nevertheless, if the results from both of these experiments are to be aggregated, the presence of male-fame stereotypes and own-gender bias might take the form to some extent but confirmed the presence of fame availability in moderate to large amounts.

The second research study of McKelvie (1995b) was carried out to, again, measure the size of the effect of fame on estimated frequency for each famous gender. It was predicted that the people under consideration would place a high numerical value on the estimate of the gender that holds a famous name than that of a non-famous name and that the male-fame stereotype would emerge. The findings of the experiment once again contradicted the opinion of male-fame stereotype. In addition, the results supported the effect of fame availability on the estimated frequency of male and female names and suggested it to be moderate in size.

The research study of Folkes (1988) was done to find the influences of the availability heuristic on consumer’s judgments about the likelihood of the products failing. It suggested that consumers typically reach to the product reliability estimates from a variety of both external and internal resources. The external resources can compromise of the data present on Consumer Reports or given by the salesperson. On the other hand, the internal information can be received by the consumers’ past product experiences, evaluating the number of times the product failed.

Nevertheless, the limitation of using the internal resources is that recalling past experiences gets difficult when the number of usage of products is difficult to estimate. Here, the role of the availability heuristic plays its part. Consumers analyze the likelihood of a product failing based on the experiences of events that strike readily into their minds, and then basing their judgement in favor of the ones that occurred more frequently, whether they indicated the success of a product or the failure of it. Four different studies were carried out to justify this thesis, which used different methodologies and products.


All of the above mentioned scientific experiments found out that the judgments on product performance were biased in ways anticipated by the availability heuristic. However, other information processing biases should also be examined in the process, including the conjunction fallacy and the representative heuristic to make the judgments more effective. These results are in accordance with the fact that was explained in our class when our teacher has recalled the name of two groups. We have perceived that there is more men’s name in the first group and more women’s name in the second group. It was because of the availability heuristic and the reality was the opposite. Our judgement was based on the number of famous names, which is confirmed in the light of these experimental findings.



McKelvie, S. J. (1995a). Bias in the estimated frequency of names. Perceptual and Motor Skills,

81(3f), 1331-1338.

McKELVIE, S. J. (1995b). Bias in the estimated frequency of names. Perceptual and Motor

Skills, 81(3f), 1331-1338.

Folkes, V. S. (1988). The availability heuristic and perceived risk. Journal of Consumer research,





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