Pattern matching & frequency gambling

A basic function within the human decision making process is “pattern matching” and “frequency gambling“. For a human being it is an easy way of dealing with familiar and new situations.

Pattern matching & frequency gambling

General understanding

The human decision making process is a very complex task. In order to be able to make quick decisions we apply certain strategies to increase our speed. This takes place more or less unconsciously.

“Understanding the process and patterns that lead to a decision/reaction helps to prevent errors.”

Research indicates that humans use (behaviourial) schemata. These schemata are organized collections of information and response patterns. It is our automatic subsystem and can process information extremely fast.

The older we are and the more experianced we get, the more schemata are ‘stored’ in our automatic subsystem. Our ‘what worked in the past’ collection is constantly growing.

Pattern matching

One core mechanism of this subsystem is called “pattern matching”. In each and every situation, our brain is looking for relevant information. If enough information is detected to identify a situation (what happens?), we are unconciously searching for a stored scheme in order to react.

For example:

We meet an old friend: When approaching him/her, we tend to use a standard phrase for greeting, a certain pitch in our voice, a certain behaviour – but it is not really concious, isn’t it? We use a stored pattern to react to that situation.

This ‘pattern matching’ helps us to react fast and correct to already known situations. It is our internal procedure, our ‘habit’.

Frequency gambling

But what if we cannot make a ‘perfect match’ between the situation we are in and a stored scheme? Then the so called ‘frequency gambling’ comes to action. This is the second big mechanism helping us to deal with our environment.

This mechanism is looking for a ‘close match‘. It triggers the execution of a scheme that was called most frequently, under similar circumstances. Most often it produces a winning strategy for new situations, nevertheless there is the chance that we overlook important information (because we are pressing a new scene in a known schema – confirmation bias).

For example:

We meet and old friend and his/her new girl-/boyfriend: We will most probably react the same way like we would do when meeting him/her alone. Nevertheless, the situation we’re in is different. Was our reaction appropriate? Or should we’ve reacted differently?

This pattern helps us to react to new situations with already stored patterns. We find ourselfes ‘trapped in our habits’.


Humans make decisions all the time in order to deal with their environment. We often have no real influence on our reactions.

We are ‘masters in adaption’ – altough this strategy could lead to errors.

Understanding, how we work, can positively affect safety in aviation.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.