Gerd Gigerenzer

Take-the-Best Heuristic

Image source: Franz Johann Morgenbesser from Vienna, Austria

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Gerd Gigerenzer (born September 3, 1947, Wallersdorf, Germany) is a German psychologist who has studied the use of bounded rationality and heuristics in decision making. Gigerenzer is director emeritus of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition (ABC) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy, both in Berlin, Germany.
Gigerenzer investigates how humans make inferences about their world with limited time and knowledge. He proposes that, in an uncertain world, probability theory is not sufficient; people also use smart heuristics, that is, rules of thumb. He conceptualizes rational decisions in terms of the adaptive toolbox (the repertoire of heuristics an individual or institution has) and the ability to choose a good heuristics for the task at hand. A heuristic is called ecologically rational to the degree that it is adapted to the structure of an environment.
Gigerenzer argues that heuristics are not irrational or always second-best to optimization, as the accuracy-effort trade-off view assumes, in which heuristics are seen as short-cuts that trade less effort for less accuracy. In contrast, his and associated researchers’ studies have identified situations in which “less is more”, that is, where heuristics make more accurate decisions with less effort. This contradicts the traditional view that more information is always better or at least can never hurt if it is free. Less-is-more effects have been shown experimentally, analytically, and by computer simulations.


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