Fast or Frugal, but Not Both: Decision Heuristics Under Time Pressure

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Abstract

Heuristics are simple, yet effective, strategies that people use to make decisions. Because heuristics do not require all available information, they are thought to be easy to implement and to not tax limited cognitive resources, which has led heuristics to be characterized as fast-and-frugal. We question this monolithic conception of heuristics by contrasting the cognitive demands of two popular heuristics, Tallying and Take-the-Best. We contend that heuristics that are frugal in terms of information usage may not always be fast because of the attentional control required to implement this focus in certain contexts. In support of this hypothesis, we find that Take-the-Best, while being more frugal in terms of information usage, is slower to implement and fares worse under time pressure manipulations than Tallying. This effect is then reversed when search costs for Take-the-Best are reduced by changing the format of the stimuli. These findings suggest that heuristics are heterogeneous and should be unpacked according to their cognitive demands to determine the circumstances a heuristic best applies.

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