Take the case of an autistic savant with exceptional memory skills.

Is this person less prone to cognitive biases involving memory skills such as availability heuristic bias than a normal person due to his exceptional memory skills?


Does more memory skills reduce the chances of cognitive biases relating to memory or its the ability to recall them effectively that reduce the chances or is it a combination of both?

Also, does lack of information be perceived as a cognitive bias?


In general, no. People with excellent memories can just as easily misapply the availability heuristic as people with poor memories.

To see why, consider a situation where a reasoner is asked to estimate the relative frequency of murder and suicide. Because examples of murder or more "available" (i.e., more easily recalled) than examples of suicide, the reasoner may conclude that murder is more common than suicide. This conclusion would be mistaken: murder is actually less common than suicide, and murders are only more "available" because they are more likely to be reported in the media than suicides. Note that the problem with this inference is NOT inaccurate memory, but a failure to recognize that memories do not reflect the actual frequencies of murder and suicide.

Of course, someone who has specifically memorized statistics about causes of death -- something that an autistic is perhaps more likely to do -- may be able to draw on that knowledge to answer the question correctly.

For more information on the "suicide paradox," see http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/08/31/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-suicide-paradox/

  • $\begingroup$ Your example is closely related to base rate neglect where specific information is construed to be general due to lack of information about general. Availability heuristic is a bias based on the information that comes first to mind (most people boast it as intuition); the ease with which we can recall information though better information can exist but difficult to recall. It seems to be the closest bias proportional to memory. $\endgroup$ – Ubermensch Jun 6 '12 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ I have edited my question to be more specific and your example is also close to availability heuristic but it seems to make a stronger case of base rate neglect. I based my question after reading Kanheman and Tversky's paper lamar.colostate.edu/~bclegg/PY453/Decision_Making.pdf $\endgroup$ – Ubermensch Jun 6 '12 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification and the interesting question. I tend to think of base rate neglect as a finding and the availability heuristic as an explanation, so it is possible for the example to be a case of both. (That said, I would consider the murder-suicide example to be a case of using unreliable information to estimate the base rate rather than a case of base rate neglect.) $\endgroup$ – Chris Jun 6 '12 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any specific examples of the availability heuristic in mind? I am not familiar with all of them; others may depend more on memory. The ones that I can think of do not, however. For example, consider estimating the number of words that begin with the letter k vs. have a k in the third letter (from the linked paper). Letters beginning with k are more available (despite being less common) because we tend to index words by their initial sounds. I would suspect that people with superior memories would do the same. $\endgroup$ – Chris Jun 6 '12 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ My question is based on the Kanheman-Tversky link I gave in the comment. Also, a lot of cognitive biases does seem to fall under more than one category. Your answer suggests that its the recall function of the brain that's more important in addressing memory-related biases rather than memory. If its the case, you can kindly provide me a link. After reading your answer, I have got an another question: Does lack of information/knowledge be construed as a cognitive bias? $\endgroup$ – Ubermensch Jun 6 '12 at 13:03

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