ISBN: 9780262353137 | 416 pp. | July 2019

Taming Uncertainty


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.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Contributors
  3. 1. Reckoning with Uncertainty: Our Program of Research
  4. 2. The Robust Beauty of Heuristics in Choice under Uncertainty
  5. 3. Using Risk–Reward Structures to Reckon with Uncertainty
  6. 4. Going Round in Circles: How Social Structures Guide and Limit Search
  7. 5. Strategic Uncertainty and Incomplete Information: The Homo Heuristicus Does Not Fold
  8. 6. Toward Simple Eating Rules for the Land of Plenty
  9. 7. Adaptive Exploration: What You See Is Up to You
  10. 8. The Weight of Uncertain Events
  11. 9. Tomorrow Never Knows: Why and How Uncertainty Matters in Intertemporal Choice
  12. 10. Experiences and Descriptions of Financial Uncertainty: Are They Equivalent?
  13. 11. Ways to Learn from Experience
  14. 12. Rivals in the Dark: Trading Off Strategic and Environmental Uncertainty
  15. 13. The Ecological Rationality of the Wisdom of Crowds
  16. 14. Crowds on the Move
  17. 15. Computational Evolution and Ecologically Rational Decision Making
  18. 16. How the Adaptive Adolescent Mind Navigates Uncertainty
  19. 17. The Life-Span Development of Risk Preference
  20. 18. Interpreting Uncertainty: A Brief History of Not Knowing
  21. Glossary of Key Concepts
  22. References
  23. Name Index
  24. Subject Index