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Over-Representation of Extreme Events in Decision Making Reflects Rational Use of Cognitive Resources




People’s decisions and judgments are disproportionately swayed by improbable but extreme eventualities, such as terrorism, that come to mind easily. This article explores whether such availability biases can be reconciled with rational information processing by taking into account the fact that decision-makers value their time and have limited cognitive resources. Our analysis suggests that to make optimal use of their finite time decision-makers should over-represent the most important potential consequences relative to less important, put potentially more probable, outcomes. To evaluate this account we derive and test a model we call utility-weighted sampling. Utility-weighted sampling estimates the expected utility of potential actions by simulating their outcomes. Critically, outcomes with more extreme utilities have a higher probability of being simulated. We demonstrate that this model can explain not only people’s availability bias in judging the frequency of extreme events but also a wide range of cognitive biases in decisions from experience, decisions from description, and memory recall.

Author(s): Falk Lieder and Thomas L. Griffiths and Ming Hsu
Journal: Psychological Review
Volume: 125
Number (issue): 1
Pages: 1--32
Year: 2018
Month: January

Department(s): Rationality Enhancement
Bibtex Type: Article (article)

DOI: 10.1037/rev0000074
Language: English
State: Published


  title = {Over-Representation of Extreme Events in Decision Making Reflects Rational Use of Cognitive Resources},
  author = {Lieder, Falk and Griffiths, Thomas L. and Hsu, Ming},
  journal = {Psychological Review},
  volume = {125},
  number = {1},
  pages = {1--32},
  month = jan,
  year = {2018},
  month_numeric = {1}