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Chapter Ten. The Heuristics and Biases Approach to Judgment Under Uncertainty

Dale Griffin, Richard Gonzalez and Carol Varey

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210344.2002.00012.x


“Predictions are difficult to make, especially about the future.” This statement, attributed by different sources to a United Nations official, Niels Bohr, and Yogi Berra, may be taken as self-excusing, self-mocking, or simply confused. Although most of us would agree that the world, both physical and social, is too complex to predict, we also have the experience of easily and effortlessly making many predictions. It is difficult to consider all relevant factors when evaluating the probability of a sports team winning, a stock increasing in value, or a relationship leading to marriage, but somehow when we consider such matters a feeling of certainty or uncertainty seems to “pop out” of the given situation. For example, on the day that we are writing this, a respected British politician was asked whether the current Kosovo peace talks would lead to a settlement; after a brief pause, he stated with confidence “the balance of probabilities are 40–60 against.” According to the “heuristics and biases” approach to human judgment, people typically use cognitive short-cuts that make probability assessments easy, but prone to error. Such short-cuts occur not only in predictions but in retrospective judgments of probability as well. Consider a recent article in a major British national newspaper. The article, titled the “20 million to 1 family,” described how a couple had “broken all records ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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