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Heuristic Method

The heuristic method refers to finding the best possible solution to a problem quickly, effectively, and efficiently. The word heuristic is derived from an ancient Greek word, 'eurisko.' It means to find, discover, or search. It is a practical method of mental shortcut for problem-solving and decision making that reduces the cognitive load and doesn't require to be perfect. The method is helpful in getting a satisfactory solution to a much larger problem within a limited time frame.

The trial and error heuristic is the most fundamental heuristic. It can be applied in all situations, from matching nuts and bolts to finding the answer related to algebra. Some common heuristics used to solve metamaterial problems are visual representation, forward/backward reasoning, additional assumptions, and simplification.

Advantages of Heuristic

The heuristic method is one of the best ways to solve a problem and make decisions. The method provides a quick solution with the help of mental tricks. Some advantages of the heuristic method are given below:

  • Attribute Substitution: At the place of more complex and difficult questions, one can also opt for a simpler question related to the original one. This technique of attribute substitution makes the method more beneficial.
  • Effort Reduction: The heuristic method reduces the mental efforts required to solve a problem by making different choices and decisions. It makes the method one of the most effective ways to find solutions to many time-consuming problems.
  • Fast and Frugal: With the help of a heuristic method, the problems can be solved within a limited time, and the best & accurate answer can be obtained.
Heuristic Method

Disadvantages of Heuristic Method

As we know heuristic method helps us in getting a quick and effective solution and decision in a problem, they can also make errors and bias decisions in some situations. The certain disadvantages of the heuristic method are as under:

  • Inaccurate Decision: It is not true that the heuristic method always provides an accurate answer or decision to a problem. Sometimes, the method can provide an inaccurate solution or judgment about how commonly things appear in your mind and how certain representative things may be. It can be easily understood by the examples of manipulation of decision-making.
  • Bias Decision: It is not compulsory, and 100% proved that a decision or a solution that was effective in a past situation will always work with other situations and even with the same situation. If a person always relies on the same heuristic, then it can make it difficult to see other better and alternative solutions.
  • Reduces Creativity: If a person always relies on the same decision, it can also reduce his/her creativity and decision-making & problem-solving ability. It does not allow the person to come up with new ideas and judgments.
  • Stereotypes and Prejudice: The methods also affect a certain things, such as stereotypes and prejudice. When a person classifies and categorizes other people using mental shortcuts, he/she can miss the more relevant and informative. Such conditions may create stereotyped and prejudiced categorization of people and decisions that do not match with the real conditions.

Four Principles of the Heuristic Method

György (George) Pólya gave the four principles of the heuristic method in his book. The book was published in 1945 with the title 'How to solve it'. These principles should be followed in the proper sequence in which they are given; otherwise, it can be difficult to find the solution to the problem. That's why they are also called the four steps of the method.

  • First Principle - Understanding the Problem: It is the first step to solve a problem. This is the most important principle because before solving a problem, it is required to understand the real problem. But many people skip this principle of finding the initial suitable approach. The principle is focused on knowing the problem and looking at the problem from other angles.
    The various aspects covered under this principle are: what is the problem, what is going on, is there any other way to explain the problem, is there all required information available, etc. These all points help in understanding the actual problem and its aspects.
  • Second Principle - Making a Plan: A problem can be solved by using many different ways. The second principle says that it is required to find the best way that can be used to find the solution to the given problem. For this purpose, the right strategy is the first find the requirement. The reverse 'working backward' can help with this. In this, people assume to have a solution that helps them in solving the problem from the starting point.

  • It also helps in making an overview of the possibilities, removing the less efficient immediately, comparing all the remaining possibilities, or applying symmetry. This improves the judgment ability as well as the creativity of a person.
  • Third Principle - Implementing the Plan: After making the proper strategy, the plan can be implemented. However, for this, it is necessary to be patient and give the required time to solve the problem. Because implementing the plan is tougher than making a plan. If the plan does not provide any solution or does not stand as per the expectations, then it is advised to repeat the second principle in a better way.
  • Fourth Principle - Evaluation and Adaptation: This principle evaluated that things are in the planned way. In other words, it said that we match the planned way with the standard way. After this, it is found that the things are going well maintained so that the best way of solving the problem can get. Some plans may work while others may not. So, after the proper evaluation, the most appropriate way can be adapted to solve the main problem.

Types of Heuristic Methods

Several heuristic methods were also used by Pólya. Some of the most popular methods are discussed below:

  • Dividing Technique: Under this technique, the original problem is divided into smaller pieces or sub-problems so that the answer can be found more easily. After solving these sub-problems separately, they can be merged to get the final answer of the solution of the original problem.
  • Inductive Method: This method involves a smaller problem than the original problem, which has been solved already. The original bigger problem can be solved by deriving the generalization from the smaller problem or by using the same method that is applied in the previous problem.
  • Reduction Method: As we know, the problem is solved by different factors and causes, this method sets various limits for the main problem in advance. It is helpful in reducing the leeway of the original problem and getting the solution easily.
  • Constructive Method: Under this method, the problem is solved step by step, and when the first step is passed, the solution is taken as a victory. After it, consecutive steps are taken to reach the final stage. It helps in getting the best way to solve the problem and getting a successful result.
  • Local Search Method: In this method, the most feasible way of solving a problem is searched and used. Continuous improvement is made in the method during the solving process, and when there is no more scope for improvement, the method gets to the end, and the final result is the answer to the problem.

Uses of Heuristic in Various Fields

Heuristic Method


  • Informal Modes of Heuristic:
    • Affect Heuristic: Emotion is used as a mental shortcut to affect a decision. Emotion is the driving force behind making a decision or solving an issue fast and effectively. It's used to assess the dangers and advantages of something based on the pleasant or negative emotions people connect with a stimulus. It can also be termed a gut decision because if the gut feeling is correct, the rewards will outweigh the risks.
    • Familiarity Heuristic: A mental shortcut used in various scenarios in which people presume that the circumstances that led to previous conduct are still true in the present situation and that the previous behavior may thus be applied correctly to the new situation. This is true when the person is under a lot of mental strain.
    • Peak-end Rule: An event's experience is rated solely on the sentiments felt at the event's apex. Typically, not every event is viewed as complete, but rather what the spectator felt at the climax, whether the event was pleasant or painful. All other emotions aren't lost, but they aren't used. It can also contain the duration of the event.
    • Some Other Types:
      • Balance Heuristic
      • Bade Rate Heuristic
      • Common Sense Heuristic
      • Anchoring and Adjustment
      • Availability Heuristic
      • Contagion Heuristic
      • Default Heuristic
      • Educated Guess Heuristic
      • Effort Heuristic
      • Escalation of Commitment
      • Fairness Heuristic
      • Naïve Diversification
      • Representativeness Heuristic
      • Scarcity Heuristic
      • Simulation Heuristic
      • Social Proof
      • Working Backward
  • Formal Modes of Heuristic:
    • The heuristic of Aspects Elimination
    • Fast-and-frugal trees
    • Fluency heuristic
    • Gaze heuristic
    • Recognition heuristic
    • Satisficing
    • Similarity heuristic
    • Take-the-best heuristic
    Cognitive Maps:
    Cognitive maps were also discovered to be manipulated and created using heuristics. Internal representations of our physical environment, particularly linked with spatial relationships, are known as cognitive maps. Our memory uses these internal representations as a guide in our external surroundings. When asked about map imaging, distancing, and other topics, it was discovered that respondents frequently distorted visuals. The regularization of photographs gave rise to these aberrations.

Philosophy: An excellent example is a model that is a heuristic device for comprehending what it models because it is never identical to what it models. In this sense, heuristics include stories, analogies, and the like. The concept of utopia, as articulated in Plato's best-known work, The Republic, is a classic example. It implies that the "ideal city" represented in The Republic is neither offered as a goal to strive for or as a guiding principle for growth. Rather, it demonstrates how everything would have to be connected and how one thing would lead to another (sometimes with disastrous consequences) if particular principles were chosen and followed to the letter.

The noun heuristic is frequently used to define a rule-of-thumb, technique, or method. Heuristics are important in creative thinking and the formation of scientific hypotheses, according to science philosophers.

Law: Heuristics are used in legal theory, particularly in the theory of law and economics, when a step-by-step analysis is practicable, insofar as "practicality" is determined by the interests of a governing body.

The current securities regulatory structure is based on the assumption that all investors are completely rational. Actual investors are constrained by cognitive biases, heuristics, and framing effects. For example, the legal drinking age for unaccompanied persons in all states and the United States is 21 years. It is considered that people must be mature enough to make judgments considering the risks of alcohol intake. Given that people mature at varying rates, the age of 21 may be too late for some and too early for others. The rather arbitrary deadline is adopted in this circumstance because it is hard or impracticable to determine whether an individual is mature enough for society to trust them with such a high level of responsibility. However, other proposed amendments include completing an alcohol education course on the condition for legal alcohol possession rather than reaching 21. Because completion of such a course would probably be optional rather than mandatory, teenage alcohol policy would be more case-by-case instead of heuristic.

Stereotyping: The heuristic method is also used by people to make opinions or judgments about things that are not familiar to them or which they have never seen. They work as a mental shortcut to guessing everything about a person as per his/her social status, actions, and background. It's not just related to making assumptions about a person but also about an event, experience, and all the other things. It can be pure guessing also. Stereotypes, as initially defined by journalist Walter Lippmann in his book Public Opinion (1922), are mental images formed by our experiences and the information we are given about the world.

Artificial Intelligence: This method is also helpful in AI to find the solution space. In artificial intelligence systems, a heuristic can be used to seek a solution space. The heuristic is obtained by modifying the weight of branches based on how likely each branch is to lead to a destination node or by applying a function that the designer has programmed into the system.

What can manipulate decision-making?

Many different ways can be used by a person in making a decision. These different ways can be used in different situations as per their suitability. You should understand the role of each type so that you can decide which way you should choose in which condition. But even after the availability of these ways, a person can get manipulated while making a decision. Such a situation can arise due to the following conditions:

  • Availability: In this way, the decision is made upon the quick availability of some thoughts in mind. When we want to make a decision, we get confused with various relevant examples. These examples are a part of your memory. Now the question arises which example you should choose. So you can go with the example that is more commonly or frequently get available in your mind.
    For example, you want to travel from Agra to Delhi, and you choose the train as a medium of traveling. But suddenly, you think of the number of recent train accidents. You might feel the train travel is unsafe, and you shifted to road travel. As the thoughts that came to your mind first about train travel are dangerous, this changes your attitude towards train traveling. Here the availability heuristic forced you to think that train accidents are more common than they are.
  • Representativeness: Under representative heuristic, the decision is made by the comparison of the current situation with the most representative mental prototype. If you are trying to decide something, you can relate or compare the current situation with a past situation or a mental example and can decide on the basis of it. For example, a strange older man might remind you of your grandfather. In this situation, your mind will compare that older man with your grandfather and immediately assume that the person will be kind, gentle, and trustworthy because your grandfather has similar qualities.
  • Affect: The affect heuristic helps in decision-making by influencing the emotions and feelings that you experience in a particular situation. For example, as per some research, it is found that a person focuses on the potential downsides of a decision while in a negative mood. He/she does not see the positive side and possible benefits of the decision that can be affected by deciding with negative emotions. On the other hand, when the person decides in a positive mood, then he/she can see all the benefits and lower the risks of the decision. It shows how a person's mood or emotion towards a situation can affect the decision.
  • Anchoring: The anchoring bias or anchoring heuristic refers to decide something by getting over-influenced with the first bit of information that is available to you. This does not let the person consider other factors. In this way, he/she may choose a wrong or bad decision and can't find the best possible decision. For example, you are going shopping, and you've pre-determined how much you will pay for a dress. Now suppose, in the first shop you get the dress at a 5% discount, and you jump over it without any bargaining or searching for a better deal. Hence, it may be possible that your decision is not as good as it could be. This shows the anchoring bias.

Heuristic Method of Teaching

Under this technique, an issue is presented to the students, and they are asked to solve it using multiple literacy resources such as the library, laboratory, and workshops. The teacher's responsibility is to initiate learning, and students participate actively throughout the process. They strive to develop relevant solutions based on some reasoning by employing their creative thinking and imaginative abilities. They learn from their own mistakes. The main focus of this teaching strategy is on:

  • To foster a problem-solving mindset.
  • To foster scientific perspectives on the issue.
  • To increase one's ability to express oneself.

Its fundamental concepts are as follows:

  • At any given time, to as few people as feasible.
  • Encourage the learner to discover as much as possible about oneself.

Heuristic Method vs. Exact Solution

The features that make the heuristic method different and superior from the exact solution method are as under:

Heuristic Method Exact Solution Method
The heuristic method is a mathematical method that provides a good solution with proof to a particular problem. The exact solution method focuses on finding the optimal solution to a problem.
This method consumes less time. This method consumes more time.
It provides a good, immediate, short-term goal or approximate solution or decision. It provides an optimal, perfect, or rational solution or decision.
It is more flexible. It is less flexible.

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