In mathematics, an algorithm is a defined set of step-by-step procedures that provides the correct answer to a particular problem. By following the instructions correctly, you are guaranteed to arrive at the right answer.
An algorithm is often expressed in the form of a graph, where each step is represented by a square. Arrows then branch off from each step to point to possible directions that you may take to solve the problem.
In psychology, algorithms are frequently contrasted with heuristics. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to quickly make judgments and solve problems. However, heuristics are really more of a rule-of-thumb; they don't always guarantee a correct solution.
When problem-solving, deciding which method to use depends on the need for either accuracy or speed. If complete accuracy is required, it is best to use an algorithm. On the other hand, if time is an issue, then it may be best to use a heuristic.
More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary
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