Next Article in Journal
The Relation of Personality and Intelligence—What Can the Brunswik Symmetry Principle Tell Us?
Next Article in Special Issue
Inequality, Education, Workforce Preparedness, and Complex Problem Solving
Previous Article in Journal
Relationships between Personality and Cognitive Ability: A Facet-Level Analysis
Previous Article in Special Issue
How to Think Rationally about World Problems
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle

When Irrational Biases Are Smart: A Fuzzy-Trace Theory of Complex Decision Making

Department of Human Development, Human Neuroscience Institute, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
Received: 14 March 2018 / Revised: 29 May 2018 / Accepted: 29 May 2018 / Published: 8 June 2018
PDF [325 KB, uploaded 11 June 2018]


I take a decision-making approach to consider ways of addressing the “unresolved and dramatic problems in the world”. Traditional approaches to good decision-making are reviewed. These approaches reduce complex decisions to tradeoffs between magnitudes of probabilities, and outcomes in which the quantity and precision of information are key to making good decisions. I discuss a contrasting framework, called “fuzzy-trace theory”, which emphasizes understanding the simple gist of options and applying core social and moral values. Importantly, the tendency to rely on meaningful but simple gist increases from childhood to adulthood (or, in adulthood, as people gain experience in a domain), so that specific irrational biases grow with knowledge and experience. As predicted theoretically, these violations of rationality in the traditional sense are associated empirically with healthier and more adaptive outcomes. Thus, interventions that help decision makers understand the essential gist of their options and how it connects to core values are practical approaches to reducing “unresolved and dramatic problems in the world” one decision at a time. View Full-Text
Keywords: gist; wisdom; biases; heuristics; Allais paradox; framing effects; rationality gist; wisdom; biases; heuristics; Allais paradox; framing effects; rationality
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Reyna, V. When Irrational Biases Are Smart: A Fuzzy-Trace Theory of Complex Decision Making. J. Intell. 2018, 6, 29.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics



[Return to top]
J. Intell. EISSN 2079-3200 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert
Back to Top