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Representative Heuristic Bias

Written by

Tiffany Clark

Reviewed by

VidCruiter Editorial Team

Last Modified

Apr 17, 2024
Representative Heuristic Bias
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Representative Heuristic Bias


Representative heuristic bias occurs when people have confused thinking about the probability of an outcome because events or objects are similar. It’s a common mistake to assume that because similarities exist, they are more closely associated or connected than they actually are. 


Like most biases, representative heuristic bias serves a purpose in human psychology, although the results aren’t reliable. In essence, cognitive biases are mental shortcuts, and they allow people to make judgments without putting in a lot of time and effort. 


Unfortunately, in taking mental shortcuts, whether consciously or unconsciously, a lot of pertinent information or data is excluded from the judgment. Representative heuristic bias uses similarity rather than more logical and probabilistic explanations. 


In recruitment and hiring, representative heuristic bias comes into play when a selector estimates probabilities of someone being stereotypical of a group of individuals because they resemble that average or typical member of said group. The candidate being stereotyped is called a prototype. 




Representativeness Heuristics usually involve stereotyping. A college student may expect their math professor to be the stereotypical “absent-minded professor” stereotype. When the student encounters their professor on the first day of math class, a young woman dressed in jeans and a comfortable t-shirt enters the room and introduces herself as the professor. The student’s assumption about who the math professor would be is representative heuristic bias. 


For another example, consider a 22-year-old woman named Victoria, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is passionate about the issues of discrimination and equality. If someone interviewing assumes that Victoria is interested in attending law school to fight for victims of injustice, they have been influenced by representative heuristic bias. 


Related Terms

Anchoring Bias

occurs when a hiring manager relies too heavily on the first thing they learn about a candidate and use this knowledge as a starting point for decision-making.

Availability Cascade Bias

refers to the self-reinforcing cycle that results when individuals adopt a new insight because other group members have adopted it.

Representativeness Heuristics

is a term used interchangeably with representative heuristic bias.

Confirmation Bias

refers to a person’s tendency to consciously or subconsciously seek information that confirms their opinions or views while disregarding input that challenges their perception.

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