How do people make difficult decisions in situations involving substantial risk and uncertainty? In this study, we presented a difficult medical decision to three expert physicians in a combined “thinking aloud” and “cross examination” experiment. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed using script analysis to observe the process of constructing and making the decision, and using referring phrase analysis to determine the representation of knowledge of likelihoods. These analyses are compared with a formal decision analysis of the same problem to highlight similarities and differences. The process of making the decision resembles an incremental, sequential‐refinement planning algorithm, where a complex decision is broken into a sequence of choices to be made with a simplified description of the alternatives. This strategy results in certain kinds of relevant information being underweighted in the final decision. Knowledge of likelihood appears to be represented as symbolic descriptions capturing categorical and ordinal relations with “landrhark” likelihoods, only some of which are described numerically. Numerical probabilities, capable of being combined and compared arithmetically, were not observed. These observations suggest an explanation for the heuristics and biases in human decision making under uncertainty in terms of the processes that manipulate symbolic descriptions of likelihoods and construct plans of action for situations involving risk and uncertainty.
Cognitive Science - A Multidisciplinary Journal – Wiley
Published: Apr 1, 1988
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