In the early 1970s a new type of Economic and Psychological line of study began to emerge called Behavioral Economics. Behavioral Economics is, in the most general of terms, the study of how and why humans make decisions. For much of recorded human history, we have thought that we (human beings) are incredible at making decisions and that each decision was carefully and algorithmically made so that the correct or best choice was always made. This turns out to be completely wrong.
Surprised? Yeah, me neither. I know myself, and I know that when faced with a variety of decisions in any given moment, I’m about 95% likely to pick the dumbest one.
Inside this school of thought there are several “heuristics”. Now that right there is a big ole, confusing word. What in the world is a heuristic? Well it’s actually pretty simple. Heuristics are “simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgements and make decisions.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) So, basically, the people who have dedicated their lives to the study of Behavioral Economics have come up with several general rules that they think our minds follow when making decisions, and they call these “heuristics”.
Now some of you readers may be thinking, “No way, Hayden. My mind don’t follow no stinkin’ rules. I have a mind of my own!” Okay, cool. But keep reading anyways, because you’ve already made it this far.
Some (not all) of these heuristics include: representativeness, anchoring/adjustment, and of course, the availability heuristic.
The availability heuristic is exactly what it sounds like. We take the word heuristic, which we already know is the word used for general rules that our mind follows when we are making a decision, and we add the word availability, which means: “the quality of being able to be used or obtained”. Therefore, the availability heuristic is a general rule about how we make decisions using things in our minds that are ready to be used or obtained by us without a whole lot of effort, or are available to us. See what we did there? Now we are all Behavioral Economists! Well not really. But, one step closer!
To go a little more in depth with this topic, the availability heuristic is basically a shortcut we take in our brains. Things that we have just given some thought to, or have just been exposed to tend to have a significant impact on what we decide on when later faced with a decision, even if the decision we make and the thing that was readily available to us don’t directly correlate to each other. We tend to use whatever information or ideas that are most easily available to us to make decisions. If you’re still trying to wrap your mind around the availability heuristic, think of this example:
You’re driving down I-40 on a beautiful day going about 10 over the speed limit, without a care in the world. Suddenly, you come up on a terrible accident, where one car has flipped over, and the other car is sideways on the side of the road. What do you do? You slow down! Do you know why? Because now the probability of you being in an accident has increased in your mind. It seems like it is more likely to happen now. Of course, the actual probability of you being in an accident is the exact same but in your mind, it’s now more likely than it was 30 seconds ago when you were driving without a care in the world.
That’s because of the availability heuristic. You drove up on a wreck, which had absolutely nothing to do with you. But even though it had nothing to do with you or how you are driving, now you are thinking about that wreck and how it could happen to you if you aren’t careful. So, you make the decision to slow your roll a little.
Now, how does this relate to us as Christians? That point, I believe is blatantly obvious. The more available ideas are in our mind, the more likely we are to make a decision based on that idea. This is exactly why Pastor Steve (that was weird….Dad?) is always talking about the importance of reading our Bibles. Or why you need to get you and your family to church on Sunday morning. Or why you should join a Small Group, take a more involved role in the church, join a Bible study, the list goes on and on and on of things he wants you to do. The reason he wants you so badly to do these things is because of this heuristic.
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” Joshua 1:8.
The word of God explains the availability heuristic to us right here. Meditate on these things at all times, day and night, so that you can do everything written in it. It doesn’t say “but only if you want to, oh and also try to do the things that are written down there.” It says that in order to follow the Law and the Word of God, we must meditate on it day and night.
In order for us, as Christians to follow the example that Jesus has set for us, and in order for us to make decisions that are based on Biblical teachings and in line with God’s Word and Plan for our lives, we must have that information readily available for us. We must have been freshly exposed to that information, and it must be easily accessible to our minds. If not, based on the availability heuristic, our decisions could be made based on whatever else is most readily available to us. Whether that be a song, movie, book, or anything else we have recently been exposed to, our minds will make a decision based on that other thing. Some verses related to this topic:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”
(Philippians 4:8 abridged)
“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to Your Word”
Each of these verses has something in common. They each teach the importance of this concept, of the availability heuristic, to those of us trying to follow Christ daily.
How can we keep from sinning against God? By living according to God’s Word.
How can we live according to God’s word? By hiding God’s Word in our hearts.
What are the things that we must think about? Things that are excellent and praiseworthy.
Because what we think about matters. What we put into our minds matters. It matters because of how much it can impact each of the decisions we make every single day.
It matters because for us, making decisions according to God’s Word must matter.
Hayden, Guest Writer