The Dialectical Utility of Heuristic Processing in Outdoor Adventure Education


  • Chris A. B. Zajchowski The University of Utah
  • Matthew T. J. Brownlee The University of Utah
  • Nate N. Furman The University of Utah



heuristic processing, decision making, risk management, avalanche terrain, outdoor adventure education


Heuristics—cognitive shortcuts used in decision-making events—have been paradoxically praised for their contribution to decision-making efficiency and prosecuted for their contribution to decision-making error (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011; Gigerenzer, Todd, & ABC Research Group, 1999; Kahneman, 2011; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982). Recent research in outdoor adventure education (OAE) using the heuristic concept to diagnose field-based decision-making errors has ignored this duality, focusing solely on the negative potential of heuristic processing (e.g., Clement, 1997; McCammon, 2004a; Simenhois & Savage, 2009; Tremper, 2008; Wheeler, 2008) and neglecting positive and prudent uses of heuristic processing in field-based risk management. This conceptual manuscript follows the suggestion of Furman, Shooter, and Schumann (2010) to explore the dual-nature of heuristic processing in OAE. Using a dialectical method, the authors interrogate the dominant, negativistic interpretation of heuristic processing as well as illustrate the common uses of heuristics in risk management curricula within outdoor pursuits. In the resulting synthesis, the authors show that a symptom-prescription view of heuristic duality can reclaim the utility of heuristics as decision-making aids (e.g., scenarios, mnemonics, visual models) in OAE, as well as provide implications for decision-making scholarship and field-based practice.





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