Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart

To survive in a world where knowledge is limited, time is pressing, and deep thought is often an unattainable luxury, decision-makers must use bounded rationality. In Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart, we explore fast and frugal heuristics - simple rules for making decisions with realistic mental resources. These heuristics enable smart choices to be made quickly and with a minimum of information by exploiting the way that information is structured in particular environments. Despite limiting information search and processing, simple heuristics perform comparably to more complex algorithms, particularly when generalizing to new data - simplicity leads to robustness.

From the Back Cover

"How do people cope in the real, complex world of confusing and overwhelming information and rapidly approaching deadlines? This important book starts a new quest for answers. Here, Gigerenzer, Todd , and their lively research group show that simple heuristics are powerful tools that do surprisingly well. The field of decision making will never be the same again."
-- Donald A. Norman, Nielsen Norman Group, Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego, and author of "Things that Make Us Smart" and "The Invisible Computer".

"In the past few years, the theory of rational ("sensible") human behavior has broken loose from the illusory and empirically unsupported notion that deciding rationally means maximizing expected utility. Research has learned to take seriously and study empirically how real human beings ... actually address the vast complexities of the world they inhabit. Simple Heuristics ... offers a fascinating introduction to this revolution in cognitive science, striking a great blow for sanity in the approach to human rationality."
-- Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Laureate in Economics and Professor of Computer Science and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

"This book is a major contribution to the theory of bounded rationality. It illustrates that the surprising efficiency of fast and simple procedures is due to their fit with the structure of the environment in which they are used. The emphasis on this "ecological rationality" is an advance in a promising and already fruitful new direction of research."
-- Reinhard Selten, Nobel Laureate in Economics and Professor of Economics at the University of Bonn

"Gigerenzer & Todd's volume represents a major advance in our understanding of human reasoning, with many genuinely new ideas on how people think and an impressive body of data to back them up. Simple Heuristics is indispensable for cognitive psychologists, economists, and anyone else interested in reason and rationality."
-- Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at MIT and author of "How the Mind Works" and "Words and Rules"

Other Editions

Chinese Tranlation: East China Normal University Press (2002)
Romanian translation: Publica, Bucharest (in press)


Gigerenzer, G., & Todd, P.M., & the ABC Research Group. (1999). Simple Heuristics that make us smart. New York: Oxford University Press.

ISBN-10: 0-19514-381-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-19514-381-2

Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart Cover

Book Summary

Todd, P. M., & Gigerenzer, G. (2000). Précis of Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 727-741.

More on simple heuristics...

"Simple minds, smart choices" by Bruce Bower, Science News, May 29, 1999, p. 348-349

"Basic instinct" by Kate Douglas, Sept. 4, 1999, p. 32-35 (subscription is needed to enter the online archive)