Monday, November 26, 2012

Ecological Rationality: Intelligence in the World (Peter M. Todd, Gerd Gigerenzer, and The ABC Research Group. Oxford University Press, 2012). Book Review Journal of Economic Psychology 34 (2013) 306-308

Ecological Rationality is a series of essays under the common theme of understanding rationality as a match between mind and environment. This edited volume features authors both from the ABC research group and from outside of it and is a continuation of Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (Gigerenzer, Todd, & The ABC Research Group, 1999). That book presented a view of rationality that differed from the commonly accepted views in cognitive science and economics. In particular, the authors argued that there is no one-fit-all rational tool for all tasks, but instead an “adaptive toolbox” of multiple rules of thumb (i.e., heuristics) that often work at least as good as more sophisticated decision making strategies. The question left unanswered by the first volume, however, is under what circumstances exactly a particular tool from the adaptive toolbox works well and why. For example, in inferential judgment, when does it pay to ignore some available information? When does it pay to disregard the relative validity of different pieces of information? When does recognition lead to good inferences? Ecological Rationality fills in this gap by reviewing the evidence accumulated in the last decade on the adaptive fit between “heuristics that make us smart” and the characteristics of the decision environments. Thus, the book is a welcome addition to the demonstrations that simple decision strategies can produce good results. The idea of the match between mind and environment is, of course, not new, and as such, the current volume follows the tradition of Herbert Simon who proposed that human decision making and bounded rationality can only be understood in a combination with the characteristics of the environments ( [Simon, 1955] and [Simon, 1990]). [...]