Adaptive Rationality

The Center for Adaptive Rationality (ARC) is an interdisciplinary and international research group of psychologists, neuroscientists, economists, philosophers, biologists, and mathematicians.

Our goal is to study how people and other living beings search for information in the world and in their minds and make decisions when circumstances give them little time to ponder their options and when cognitive resources are limited. How can individuals and groups juggle the simultaneous demands of uncertainty, data scarcity, and deadlines—which are the rule rather than the exception in real-world decision-making?

Gruppenbild des Forschungsbereichs Adaptive Rationalität
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Inspired by Herbert Simon’s work on bounded rationality, ARC aims to reveal how flesh-and-blood (i.e., non-idealized) decision makers, young and old alike, cope with the staggering complexities of the world they inhabit. We do not subscribe to the deeply entrenched belief among scholars of the mind that complex problems require complex cognitive machinery. Instead, our research assumes that reasonable—that is, boundedly rational—human behavior can be described in terms of simple, adaptive heuristics or cognitive strategies. These heuristics can perform surprisingly well because they take advantage of evolved capacities (e.g., recognition memory), exploit cognitive limitations (e.g., forgetting), tap the wisdom of crowds and are ecologically rational (having an architecture that maps to the world’s informational structures).

Drawing on these rationality concepts, we develop process models of search, inference, judgment and decision-making and examine social and non-social environments in which these processes are successful or reach their limits. We test these models using a wide array of methods, ranging from experiments, surveys, and computer simulations to neuroscientific tools (e.g., electroencephalography [EEG], transcranial magnetic stimulation [TMS] and functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]).


Ralph Hertwig
Ralph Herwig | Direktor Forschungsbereich Adaptive Rationalität
sekhertwig [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de