Behavioral and Brain Sciences



Target Article

Précis of Simple heuristics that make us smart


Peter M. Todd a1 and Gerd Gigerenzer a2
a1 Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 14195 Berlin, Germany ptodd@mpib-berlin.mpg.de www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/abc
a2 Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 14195 Berlin, Germany gigerenzer@mpib-berlin.mpg.de www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/abc

Abstract

How can anyone be rational in a world where knowledge is limited, time is pressing, and deep thought is often an unattainable luxury? Traditional models of unbounded rationality and optimization in cognitive science, economics, and animal behavior have tended to view decision-makers as possessing supernatural powers of reason, limitless knowledge, and endless time. But understanding decisions in the real world requires a more psychologically plausible notion of bounded rationality. In Simple heuristics that make us smart (Gigerenzer et al. 1999), we explore fast and frugal heuristics – simple rules in the mind's adaptive toolbox for making decisions with realistic mental resources. These heuristics can enable both living organisms and artificial systems to make smart choices quickly and with a minimum of information by exploiting the way that information is structured in particular environments. In this précis, we show how simple building blocks that control information search, stop search, and make decisions can be put together to form classes of heuristics, including: ignorance-based and one-reason decision making for choice, elimination models for categorization, and satisficing heuristics for sequential search. These simple heuristics perform comparably to more complex algorithms, particularly when generalizing to new data – that is, simplicity leads to robustness. We present evidence regarding when people use simple heuristics and describe the challenges to be addressed by this research program.


Key Words: adaptive toolbox; bounded rationality; decision making; elimination models; environment structure; heuristics; ignorance-based reasoning; limited information search; robustness; satisficing; simplicity.