The Take the Best heuristic probably deserves its own post and this is it. This post is based on the paper, “Evaluating the Coherence of Take-the-Best in Structured Environments,” written by Michael D. Lee and Shunan Zhang that appeared in the July 2012 Judgment and Decision Making. Heuristic decision-making models, like Take-the-best, rely on environmental regularities. They conduct a limited search, and ignore available information, by assuming there is structure in the decision making environment. Take-the best relies on at least two regularities: diminishing returns, which says that information found earlier in search is more important than information found later; and correlated information, which says that information found early in search is predictive of information found later. Lee and Zhang develop new approaches to determining search orders, and to measuring cue discriminability, that make the reliance of Take-the-best on these regularities clear.
Lee and Zhang begin with a story about the 1992 Olympics. It was the first time professionals from the US NBA league were allowed to play in the men’s basketball competition. The US “Dream Team”, filled with stars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, was one of the most dominant teams ever assembled for any sporting
competition. Their closest game was a 117–85 victory in the final over Croatia, and head coach Chuck Daly never felt the need to call a timeout during the tournament. Making predictions about the outcomes of sporting contests is notoriously difficult, but the Dream Team made some predictions easy. Imagine trying to predict whether or not the US would beat its first opponent in the tournament, Angola, and examining the players in each team, beginning with the starting five, and moving to the bench players. At some point early in the US list—maybe
after Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Barkley and Ewing—there would be no need to look further. No matter who else was on the US roster, or the Angolan roster, the outcome is already clear. The Dream Team also made predictions easy during the course of games. Such decisions about a US victory are noncompensatory, because not all of the available information is used, and so the ignored information cannot compensate for—that is, change the decision based on—the
information that is used. The remaining player rosters are not examined, and the rest of the game is not watched.