Representativeness is one of the major general purpose heuristics, along with availability and affect, and it is used when we judge the probability that an object or event A belongs to class B by looking at the degree to which A resembles B. When we do this, we neglect information about the general probability of B occurring (its base rate) (Kahneman & Tversky, 1972). Consider the following problem:
Bob is an opera fan who enjoys touring art museums when on holiday. Growing up, he enjoyed playing chess with family members and friends. Which situation is more likely?
A. Bob plays trumpet for a major symphony orchestra
B. Bob is a farmer
A large proportion of people will choose A in the above problem, because Bob’s description matches the stereotype we may hold about a classical musicians rather than farmers. In reality, the likelihood of B being true is far greater, because farmers make up a much larger proportion of the population.
Similarity- or prototype-based evaluations more generally are a common cognitive shortcut across domains of life. For example, a consumer may infer a relatively high product quality from a store (generic) brand if its packaging is designed to resemble a national brand (Kardes, Posavac, & Cronley, 2004).
Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1972). Subjective probability: A judgment of representativeness. Cognitive Psychology, 3, 430-454.
Kardes, F. R., Posavac, S. S., & Cronley, M. L. (2004). Consumer inference: a review of processes, bases, and judgment contexts. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(3), 230-256.