Taming Uncertainty

Taming Uncertainty

By Ralph Hertwig, Timothy J. Pleskac and Thorsten Pachur

An examination of the cognitive tools that the mind uses to grapple with uncertainty in the real world.





An examination of the cognitive tools that the mind uses to grapple with uncertainty in the real world.

How do humans navigate uncertainty, continuously making near-effortless decisions and predictions even under conditions of imperfect knowledge, high complexity, and extreme time pressure? Taming Uncertainty argues that the human mind has developed tools to grapple with uncertainty. Unlike much previous scholarship in psychology and economics, this approach is rooted in what is known about what real minds can do. Rather than reducing the human response to uncertainty to an act of juggling probabilities, the authors propose that the human cognitive system has specific tools for dealing with different forms of uncertainty. They identify three types of tools: simple heuristics, tools for information search, and tools for harnessing the wisdom of others. This set of strategies for making predictions, inferences, and decisions constitute the mind's adaptive toolbox.

The authors show how these three dimensions of human decision making are integrated and they argue that the toolbox, its cognitive foundation, and the environment are in constant flux and subject to developmental change. They demonstrate that each cognitive tool can be analyzed through the concept of ecological rationality—that is, the fit between specific tools and specific environments. Chapters deal with such specific instances of decision making as food choice architecture, intertemporal choice, financial uncertainty, pedestrian navigation, and adolescent behavior.


$50.00 X ISBN: 9780262039871 488 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 56 b&w illus.


  • "How do human beings deal with uncertainty? Ralph Hertwig and colleagues from the Center of Adaptive Rationality have assembled a series of provocative and impressive answers, ranging from the abstract to the concrete. One of the most fascinating chapters discusses healthy food decisions; another explores how pedestrians move in crowds. A terrific, and quite major, contribution to both theory and practice."

    Cass R. Sunstein

    Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University, and author, The Cost-Benefit Revolution

  • "Do we need complex strategies to thrive in a radically unpredictable physical and social environment? Taming Uncertainty powerfully argues that we may not: that a collection of flexible, and remarkably simple, heuristics may be the secret of our individual, and collective, success. A radical and important thesis."

    Nick Chater

    Professor of Behavioral Science, Warwick Business School and author of The Mind Is Flat

  • "Uncertainty is the lifeblood of our daily lives, and smart heuristics are the tools to tame it. This excellent collaborative work builds on and extends the emerging science of heuristics, spanning an impressive range of topics. A highly recommendable read.”

    Gerd Gigerenzer

    Director, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin