Max Planck Institute for Human Development

The world we live in is complex and con­ stantly changing. Every day, we are faced with an onslaught of information to be considered and decisions to be made, both large and small. In order to be able to cope with this uncertainty, people have acquired simple decisionmaking strategies—rules of thumb called “heuristics.” These heuristics help people to make decisions, even when they don’t have time to carefully consider all the available options. In contrast to what was previously believed, complex problems do not require complex cognitive strategies and algorithms. Indeed, the results of the Center for Adaptive Rationality, which was founded in 2012, show that simplicity and accuracy are not mutually exclusive when it comes to making decisions. In which (social) environments can simple heuristics outperform complex decision­ making strategies, and when do they lag be­ hind? This is the question at the core of the research group’s work. The research focus is on processes of information search, evalua­ tion, and decision making. At the same time, the researchers are interested in whether and how decision strategies change across the lifespan. Informed by insights from their research, they propose heuristics and envi­ ronmental changes that can empower citi­ zens, patients, doctors, and policy makers to make better decisions. The psychologists, computer scientists, bi­ ologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and physicists in the group address these ques­ tions using a variety of methods, including behavioral experiments, surveys, computer simulations, and neuroscientific tools, such as measuring brain activity. Center for Adaptive Rationality Director: Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig 1