A heuristic is a method used to learn or solve problems. Heuristic procedures involve trial and error, using feedback to adapt to changing circumstances. In the context of human psychology, a heuristic is a simple and efficient rule through which we each evaluate our environment and make decisions. In a world where we rarely have complete information about any given situation, and when each new problem introduces different complexities, heuristics are invaluable to our day-to-day survival.
Heuristics determine what we pay attention to, what we focus on, and what we value. As such, we typically are not actually paying attention to a heuristic as we are using it. Think of the old aphorism about riding a bicycle: In one sense, we really do "forget" how to ride a bicycle insofar as we no longer consciously remember what we need to do in order to pedal down the street. Such muscle memory is a fine example of a heuristic process--we learn a motor skill to the point where we can do it without thinking about it.
Indeed, the advantage of heuristics is that we don't think about them. Thinking is an expensive process. It takes a lot of energy, first off, and it also consumes our time. Heuristics, in this sense, are "fast and frugal": decisions are made quickly and without a lot of fuss. This sometimes leads to what theorists call cognitive biases, but more often than not, heuristics allow us to make accurate judgments, or at least judgments that work well, under most circumstances.
This test draws on the work of George Lakoff, Paul Rubin, Robin Dunbar, Joseph LeDoux, Emory University, David Nolan, Ken Wilber, Simon Baron-Cohen, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Mary Douglas, Paul Ray, and Robert Pirsig. The test has been designed to explore the hypothesis that our political decisions are inherently moral decisions, and that those moral decisions arise from the interplay of fast and frugal heuristics for judging what is and is not fair.
The underlying premise is that there are essentially ten simple and efficient rules by which we each gauge fairness. By themselves, each and every one of these rules would typically sound reasonable and appropriate. In other words, each of the ten fairness rules would seem more or less fair to most people. Taken together, however, the rules often conflict, and this is where "more or less" comes into play. For, while we might all agree that the rules are all fair, we each favor some rules as being more fair than others. According to the hypothesis underlying this test, these fairness biases are the root of political differences.
The term fairness heuristics thus refers both to the postulated ten simple rules of fairness, and to the process we each use to determine which rules are more salient in making moral, and hence political, decisions.