Leibniz Prize 2017 for Ralph Hertwig

Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, honoured with Germany’s most important research prize

December 08, 2016

The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) has awarded the cognitive psychologist Ralph Hertwig, Director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the prestigious Leibniz Prize.

Ralph Hertwig (53) is being recognised with the 2017 Leibniz Prize for his pioneering work in the psychology of human judgment and decision making. His research has expanded our understanding of the potentials and limitations of human rationality. Hertwig investigates the strategies humans use, faced with limited knowledge, limited cognitive resources, and often limited time, to nonetheless make good decisions and organize their actions. Central to this work is the insight that limitations also constitute a strength, in other words that adaptive heuristics, as simple rules of thumb for solving problems in an uncertain world, can be just as effective as complex optimization models. Another of Ralph Hertwig’s important contributions to decision-making research is the distinction between experience-based and description-based assessment of risks. This explains, for example, why the dramatic consequences of climate change are systematically underestimated by society: Although there is plenty of information available to describe the problem, people have little everyday experience of it—the main thing they base their decisions on.

Ralph Hertwig has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin since 2012 and heads the Center for Adaptive Rationality. Hertwig began his scientific career in 1995 at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich. In 1997 he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. From 2000 to 2002 he was a Research Fellow at Columbia University. In 2003 Hertwig gained his post-doctoral qualification at the Free University Berlin. In 2005 he was appointed Professor of Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University of Basel, and moved from there to his current position in 2012.

Ralph Hertwig is one of ten researchers to receive the 2017 Leibniz Prize. The recipients of were selected by the Nominations Committee from 134 nominees. Of the ten new prizewinners, three are from the natural sciences, three from the humanities and social sciences, two from the life sciences, and two from the engineering sciences. Each of them will receive 2.5 million euros in prize money. Recipients can use these funds for their research work in any way they wish, without bureaucratic obstacles, over up to seven years. The awards ceremony for the 2017 Leibniz Prizes will be held on 15 March in Berlin.

Leibniz Prize
The Leibniz Prize is the most important research prize in Germany. The purpose of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz program, which was set up in 1985, is to improve the working conditions of outstanding researchers, expand the research possibilities open to them, free them from administrative work, and enable them to recruit highly qualified early career researchers. The award carries prize money of up to 2.5 million euros. More

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