Examined Lives: Judgment under Uncertainty (Session 40)

January 18th, 2024 12-1pm ET

Examined Lives

How do how humans make decisions under uncertainty?

Error Management Theory (EMT), developed by Martie Haselton, serves as a compelling lens for examining decision-making under uncertainty. This theory asserts that when information is incomplete and the evolutionary costs of making false positive or false negative errors are asymmetric, natural selection tends to favor decision-making mechanisms that lean towards the lesser of the two error types. This perspective is not only foundational but versatile in its application across various human behaviors.

In one of her notable papers, subtitled "biases in cross-sex mind-reading," Haselton employs EMT to explain men's heightened perception of women's sexual intent and women's underestimation of men's commitment. These insights offer a rich ground for understanding the nuanced interplay between evolutionary pressures and cognitive biases.

Complementing EMT, the concept of "fast and frugal heuristics" also plays a significant role in this discourse. These heuristics are decision-making strategies that are both efficient and effective, often employed in situations requiring rapid judgments with limited information. Together, EMT and fast and frugal heuristics provide a robust framework for exploring and understanding human decision-making processes in contexts marked by uncertainty and incomplete information.

For those interested in delving deeper, a collection of papers on EMT is available, offering a range of perspectives and applications of the theory.

Haselton & Buss (2009) Error management theory.pdf

Seixas & Al-Shawaf (2023) Error Management Theory and the Evolution of Cognitive Bias.pdf

Johnson, et al. (2013) The evolution of error: error management, cognitive constraints, and adaptive decision-making biases.pdf

Galperin & Haselton (2012) Error management and the evolution of cognitive bias.pdf

Rode et al (1999) When and why do people avoid unknown probabilities in decisions under uncertainty.pdf

Haselton & Nettle (2006) The paranoid optimist.pdf