Heuristic decision making examples – in the food environment

a mushroom and bechamel toastie - with cheese? heuristic decision making examples

Heuristic decision making examples – in the food environment

This afternoon I experienced a situation that reminded me of the heuristic decision-making examples that are ever present within our food environments.

I had traipsed (let’s be honest!) to a cafe/bar near my train station. Such a cool thing to do, by the way – to put a coffee and sandwich window in a bar. Streams of income!

Anyway, I had planned to order their mushroom and bechamel toastie for lunch. It was delicious, (the last time I ate it. )

Heuristic decision-making examples

When I rocked up, I placed my order and was then presented with the following conundrum. ‘Do you want cheese with that?’

Now, if the RATIONAL part of my brain was online to make that decision for me, I am pretty sure I would have said NO, given what I know about how mother cows are treated in Australia and the rest of the world. But I DIDN’T. I hesitated a couple of seconds, asked ‘does it usually just come with bechamel sauce?’ and then said, ‘Why, yes, sure, thanks!’

I sat down at the sunny table next to the coffee window and quietly said to myself ‘eediot!’ But then I started thinking about how I made that decision. It clearly wasn’t my rational mind making it. And I think this might be true for many of the decisions we make about the foods we choose to eat.

We take shortcuts. That is the heuristic decision-making examples in action.

What is heuristic decision-making?

The definition of heuristic decision-making is:

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that can facilitate problem-solving and probability judgments. These strategies are generalizations, or rules-of-thumb, reduce cognitive load, and can be effective for making immediate judgments, however, they often result in irrational or inaccurate conclusions.

That was EXACTLY what happened! And it happens all the time in our food choice experiences. It is kind of reverse marketing in a way. Offer something extra to someone for free, and they will usually (unless very evolved), say yes to the perk.

And the sandwich was GOOD. But it definitely didn’t need the cheese at all! So, maybe offering it as a FREE upgrade might not be so responsible!

Under what kinds of situations will we rely on this type of decision-making?

It also explains to me why on earth am I so capable of taking a STAND on the food that I consume when I am on my own, or not under pressure, but in social situations, which make me anxious, I lose all sense of rationality and eat all sorts of things I would not normally – like pigs in blankets 😮 (how did THAT slip through?)

I think one of the biggest takeaways for providers in the food environment, is that providing the **choice** for people to have an OPTION of choosing a healthier meal, allows them to build that circuitry in our brains gradually.

That is why it is often a good idea to check out the menu of a restaurant or cafe you are going to before you go! You can make the decision with the RATIONAL part of your brain, and not let the automatic part of your brain take over!


The Decision Lab, ‘Why do we take mental shortcuts’ available here < >

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