Heuristics: The Foundations of Adaptive Behavior

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How do people make decisions when time is limited, information unreliable, and the future uncertain? Based on the work of Nobel laureate Herbert Simon and with the help of colleagues around the world, the Adaptive Behavior and Cognition (ABC) Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin has developed a research program on simple heuristics, also known as fast and frugal heuristics. In the social sciences, heuristics have been believed to be generally inferior to complex methods for inference, or even irrational. Although this may be true in "small worlds" where everything is known for certain, this text argues that in the actual world in which we live, full of uncertainties and surprises, heuristics are indispensable and often more accurate than complex methods. Contrary to a deeply entrenched belief, complex problems do not necessitate complex computations. Less can be more. Simple heuristics exploit the information structure of the environment, and thus embody ecological rather than logical rationality. Simon (1999) applauded this new program as a "revolution in cognitive science, striking a great blow for sanity in the approach to human rationality."

By providing a fresh look at how the mind works as well as the nature of rationality, the simple heuristics program has stimulated a large body of research, led to fascinating applications in diverse fields from law to medicine to business to sports, and instigated controversial debates in psychology, philosophy, and economics. In a single volume, the present reader compiles key articles that have been published in journals across many disciplines. These articles present theory, real-world applications, and a sample of the large number of existing experimental studies that provide evidence for people's adaptive use of heuristics.

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About the Author:


Gerd Gigerenzer is Director, Max Plank Institute for Human Development, Berlin, and former Professor of Psychology, University of Chicago. He won the AAAS Prize for the best article in the behavioral sciences and the Association of American Publishers Prize for the best book in the social and behavioral sciences. His recent books include Rationality for Mortals (OUP) and Gut Feelings (Penguin), translated into 17 languages.

Ralph Hertwig is Professor of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, Department of Psychology, University of Basel. He studies bounded and social rationality, experienced-based decision making, and the methodology of the social sciences. He was a recipient of the Heinz Heckhausen Young Scientist Prize and the Charlotte-und-Karl-Bühler Young Career Award.

Thorsten Pachur is Research Scientist, Cognitive and Decision Sciences, Department of Psychology, University of Basel. He studies the role of memory processes in decision making and the psychology of risky choice.

Review:


"This volume makes a powerful case for the importance of fast and frugal heuristics in explaining a wide range of aspects of cognition. It brings together the latest developments in one of the most influential research programmes in the decision sciences, and will provide a valuable stimulus for, and a challenge to, research across the field."
Nick Chater, University College London


"The Gigerenzer, Hertwig, and Pachur volume is a collection of 40 previously
published articles, some of which have been modified to suit the occasion. There are also
very helpful introductions to each article. The articles illustrate the variety of ways in which
people use heuristics, or rules of thumb, to quickly make decisions." -- John G. Benjafield, PsycCRITIQUES


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