Simple Heuristics and Rules of Thumb: Where Psychologists and Behavioural Biologists Might Meet

John M.C. Hutchinson and Gerd Gigerenzer

in Heuristics

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199744282
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894727 | DOI:
Simple Heuristics and Rules of Thumb: Where Psychologists and Behavioural Biologists Might Meet

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The Centre for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition (ABC) has hypothesized that much human decision making can be described by simple algorithmic process models (heuristics). This chapter explains this approach and relates it to research in biology on rules of thumb, which we also review. As an example of a simple heuristic, consider the lexicographic strategy of take-the-best for choosing between two alternatives: Cues are searched in turn until one discriminates, then search stops and all other cues are ignored. Heuristics consist of building blocks, and building blocks exploit evolved or learned abilities such as recognition memory; it is the complexity of these abilities that allows the heuristics to be simple. Simple heuristics have an advantage in making decisions fast and with little information, and in avoiding overfitting. Furthermore, humans are observed to use simple heuristics. Simulations show that the statistical structures of different environments affect which heuristics perform better, a relationship referred to as ecological rationality. We contrast ecological rationality with the stronger claim of adaptation. Rules of thumb from biology provide clearer examples of adaptation because animals can be studied in the environments in which they evolved. The range of examples is also much more diverse. To investigate them, biologists have sometimes used similar simulation techniques to ABC, but many examples depend on empirically driven approaches. ABC's theoretical framework can be useful in connecting some of these examples, particularly the scattered literature on how information from different cues is integrated. Optimality modeling is usually used to explain less detailed aspects of behavior but might more often be redirected to investigate rules of thumb.

Keywords: animal cognition; cognitive ecology; cue integration; ecological rationality; heuristics; fast-and-frugal heuristic; multiple cues; optimality modelling; rule of thumb; take-the-best

Chapter.  15548 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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