Discovering simple heuristics from mental simulation


In the history of cognitive science, there have been two competing philosophies regarding how people reason about the world. In one, people rely on rich, generative models to make predictions about a wide range of scenarios; while in the other, people have a large "bag of tricks", idiosyncratic heuristics that tend to work well in practice. In this paper, we suggest that rather than being in opposition to one another, these two ideas complement each other. We argue that people's capacity for mental simulation may support their ability to learn new cue-based heuristics, and demonstrate this phenomenon in two experiments. However, our results also indicate that participants are far less likely to learn a heuristic when there is no logical or explicitly conveyed relationship between the cue and the relevant outcome. Furthermore, simulation---while a potentially useful tool---is no substitute for real world experience.

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