can often be modeled by what I call fast and frugal heuristics. Sometimes
they're faster, and sometimes they're more frugal. Deciding which of
two jobs to take, for instance, may involve consequences that are incommensurate
from the point of view of the person making the decision. The new job
may give you more money and prestige, but it might leave your children
in tears, since they don't want to move for fear that they would lose
their friends. Some economists may believe that you can bring everything
in the same common denominator, but others can't do this. A person could
end up making a decision for one dominant reason.
a second group, which doesn't look at bounds in the environment but
at bounds in the mind. These include many psychologists and behavioral
economists who find that people often take in only limited information,
and sometimes make decisions based on just one or two criteria. But
these colleagues don't analyze the environmental influences on the task.
They think that for a priori reasons people make bad choices
because of a bias, an error, or a fallacy. They look at constraints
in the mind.
Evolutionary thinking gives us a useful framework for asking some interesting questions that are not often posed. For instance, when I look at a certain heuristic like when people make a decision based on one good reason while ignoring all others I must ask in what environmental structures that heuristic works, and where it does not work. This is a question about ecological rationale, about the adaptation of heuristics, and it is very different from what we see in the study of cognitive illusions in social psychology and of judgment decision-making, where any kind of behavior that suggests that people ignore information, or just use one or two pieces of information, is coded as a bias. That approach is non-ecological; that is, it doesn't relate the mind to its environment.
future direction in cognitive science is to understand that human minds
are embedded in an environment. This is not the usual way that many
psychologists, and of course many economists, think about it. There
are many psychological theories about what's in the mind, and there
may be all kinds of computations and motives in the mind, but there's
very little ecological thinking about what certain cognitive strategies
or emotions do for us, and what problems they solve. One of the visions
I have is to understand not only how cognitive heuristics work, and
in which environments it is smart to use them, but also what role emotions
play in our judgment. We have gone through a kind of liberation in the
last years. There are many books, by Antonio Damasio and others, that
make a general claim that emotions are important for cognitive functions,
and are not just there to interrupt, distract, or mislead you. Actually,
emotions can do certain things that cognitive strategies can't do, but
we have very little understanding of exactly how that works.