“If we can think of it, it must be important”

The easier we can recall an event, the more often or likely we think this event will occur. So we have a tendency to judge the frequency of an event based on how easy it is to recall similar instances. And since memories are highly biased toward vivid, unusual, and emotionally charged examples, these later also influence how likely we are to consider events.

Scientific research example:

Imagine that two researchers (Tversky and Kahneman) present you with a list of people’s names. While reading them, you recognize some famous names. At the end Tversky and Kahneman ask you to estimate which class of names was more frequent: famous or less famous.

Tversky and Kahneman (1973) found that the famous names were more easily recalled (available) compared to the less famous names. Despite the fact that the less famous names were more frequent, the majority of the participants incorrectly judged that the famous names occurred more often…

Online Persuasion tips:

  • Use anecdotes (easy to recall).
  • Use examples that are frequently and/or recently covered in the media.
  • Use USP’s and arguments that are vivid, unusual, and/or emotionally charged.

Further reading on the availability heuristic:

  • Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D., Cognitive Psychology 5 (1): 207–233 (1973); “Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability”.
  • Availability heuristic on Wikipedia