Heuristic Vetoing: Top-Down Influences of the Anchoring-and-Adjustment Heuristic Can Override the Bottom-Up Information in Visual Images

Fallon Branch, Erin Park, Jay Hegdé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


When making decisions under uncertainty, human subjects do not always act as rational decision makers, but often resort to one or more mental “shortcuts”, or heuristics, to arrive at a decision. How do such “top-down” processes affect real-world decisions that must take into account empirical, “bottom-up” sensory evidence? Here we use recognition of camouflaged objects by expert viewers as an exemplar case to demonstrate that the effect of heuristics can be so strong as to override the empirical evidence in favor of heuristic information, even though the latter is random. We provided the viewers a random number that we told them was the estimate of a drone reconnaissance system of the probability that the visual image they were about to see contained a camouflaged target. We then showed them the image. We found that the subjects’ own estimates of the probability of the target in the image reflected the random information they were provided, and ignored the actual evidence in the image. However, when the heuristic information was not provided, the same subjects were highly successful in finding the target in the same set of images, indicating that the effect was solely attributable to the availability of heuristic information. Two additional experiments confirmed that this effect was not idiosyncratic to camouflage images, visual search task, or the subjects’ prior training or expertise. Together, these results demonstrate a novel aspect of the interaction between heuristics and sensory information during real-world decision making, where the former can be strong enough to veto the latter. This ‘heuristic vetoing’ is distinct from the vetoing of sensory information that occurs in certain visual illusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number745269
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - May 20 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Bayesian inference
  • camouflage-breaking
  • camouflage-learning
  • cognitive rules of thumb
  • judgment and decision making
  • mental shortcuts
  • visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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