In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Heuristics

  • Introduction

Communication Heuristics
Young Mie Kim
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0006


When making a judgment, individuals do not necessarily use particularistic information and engage in mentally taxing cognitive calculation or complex information processes. Rather, individuals often use judgment-relevant “cues,” “information shortcuts,” or a “knowledge device,” namely, “heuristics.” Heuristics have been defined as learned knowledge or stored memory that facilitates a relatively intuitive judgment process requiring minimal cognitive demand. Judgments formed on the basis of heuristics are not merely simpler, but they are qualitatively different from judgments based on individualistic or particularistic information. The research development on heuristics has mostly focused on judgmental biases as a form of “bounded rationality,” “cognitive error,” or “miserly use of information.” However, recent research moves beyond judgmental biases and errors resulting from heuristics and extends theories to dual-processing models. In this theoretical paradigm, a heuristic process is not always explained as an erroneous process but as a (consciously or unconsciously) “chosen” information processing mode conditioned by motivations and situations. The concept of heuristics has been widely adopted in social science, including in the field of communication. Communication research has applied the concept of heuristics in a wide range of contexts, including advertising and consumer decisions, news and political judgments, and television and the construction of social reality as well as with respect to persuasion. However, most research defines heuristics broadly (e.g., an information shortcut) or uses heuristics as any relevant “cue,” although some research focuses on specific types of heuristics or contingent variables that explain a heuristic process. Some studies focus on identification of communicative heuristics in applied contexts, such as heuristics in web searching. The application of heuristics in communication research not only adds communication factors in explaining heuristics and judgmental outcomes, but also enhances theoretical specifications of existing communication theories, such as theories concerning cultivation, news framing, and priming effects.

Conceptual Overview

The central idea of heuristics was developed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. According to Tversky and Kahneman, judgment under uncertainty relies on a simplifying process, that is, heuristics, rather than an extensive algorithmic process. In particular, they identify three heuristics that are employed in predicting uncertain events and assessing probability values: representativeness heuristics, availability heuristics, and anchoring and adjustment. In 1974, they wrote an article introducing and explaining these three types of heuristics, “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases” published in Science (see Tversky and Kahneman 1974, cited under Bounded Rationality). The program of research was soon adopted across social science research, including by scholars in the fields of economy, psychology, and political science, among others. The original work and other related studies are also collected in a book, Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (see Kahneman, et al. 1982, cited under Bounded Rationality). More recent research developments can be found in the book, Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (see Gilovich, et al. 2002, cited under Bounded Rationality).

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