Item: Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents
Title: Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents
Proceedings: 2002 International Snow Science Workshop, Penticton, British Columbia
Authors: Ian McCammon, National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, WY, USA
Abstract: Even though people are capable of making decisions in a thorough and methodical way, it appears that most of the time they don't. A growing body of research suggests that people unconsciously use simple rules of thumb or heuristics, to navigate the routine complexities of modem life. In this paper, I examine evidence that four of the;e heuristics - familiarity, social proof, commitment and scarcity - have influenced the decisions of avalanche victims. Using a quantitative method to define the level of hazard exposure in 598 avalanche accidents in the United States, I compare the behavior of the victims when heuristic cues were present to 0-err behavior when these cues were absent. Key findings of this study include: 1) evidence that social proof, commitment, and scarcity traps were significant in many accidents, 2) evidence that group size influenced susceptibility to certain heuristic traps, and 3) evidence that the level of avalanche training in victims influences their susceptibility to heuristic traps. These findings strongly support the idea that tools for managing heuristic traps are essential for effective avalanche education.
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Keywords: avalanche accidents, avalanche education, decision making, heuristics, human factors
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