Bounded Rationality: “The history and future of fast and frugal heuristics”, Shenghua Luan, Cognitive Psychologist


Introduction: Shenghua Luan is a cognitive psychologist who studies various topics in judgment and decision-making, including simple heuristics, managerial decisions, moral decisions, wisdom of the crowds, and sports forecasting. In his research, Shenghua combines descriptive approaches (i.e., how do people make decisions?) with prescriptive ones (i.e., how can we help people improve their decisions?)and prefers using real-world data to study real-world phenomena.

He began by introducing the topic of the talk, “the history and future of fast and frugal heuristics”. With the help of some examples he illustrated how every problem had two types of solutions: the traditional way and the simple way. The simpler way could be any strategy to solve the problem in such a way that it saves time. The study of this school of knowledge is called heuristics, he said.

He then moved on to the Greek definition of heuristic, which defined heuristic as “serving to find out or discover”, or as “any method, process, or strategy that helps us solve problems”.  Gestalt psychologists’s suggestion of reliance on heuristics in visual perception was explained.  He also talked about George Polya’s book ‘How to solve it’ – a system of thinking which can help you solve any problem.

“Understand, Plan, Do, and Check” was the simplified version of the four basic steps given by George Polya in his method of heuristics. Over the years heuristics was adapted from mathematics into AI. Allen Newell and Herbert Simon were some of the pioneering researchers in this field of adapting heuristics into AI. Heuristics was also adapted into psychology by Tversky and Kahneman.

Other models such as ‘The Satisficing Heuristic’, ‘Elimination by aspects’ were discussed. Both heuristics though were for tasks of preference, choice is a matter of taste and correctness is hard to judge. Performance of these or similar heuristics are better examined in tasks of inference, in which the correctness of an inference can be judged.

In conclusion he suggested that in future, the scope of heuristics should be broadened.


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