Empirical evidence for resource-rational anchoring and adjustment
People’s estimates of numerical quantities are systematically biased towards their initial guess. This anchoring bias is usually interpreted as sign of human irrationality, but it has recently been suggested that the anchoring bias instead results from people’s rational use of their finite time and limited cognitive resources. If this were true, then adjustment should decrease with the relative cost of time. To test this hypothesis, we designed a new numerical estimation paradigm that controls people’s knowledge and varies the cost of time and error independently while allowing people to invest as much or as little time and effort into refining their estimate as they wish. Two experiments confirmed the prediction that adjustment decreases with time cost but increases with error cost regardless of whether the anchor was self-generated or provided. These results support the hypothesis that people rationally adapt their number of adjustments to achieve a near-optimal speed-accuracy tradeoff. This suggests that the anchoring bias might be a signature of the rational use of finite time and limited cognitive resources rather than a sign of human irrationality.
KeywordsBounded rationality Heuristics Cognitive biases Probabilistic reasoning Anchoring-and-adjustment
This research was supported by grant number ONR MURI N00014-13-1-0341 from the Office of Naval Research (TLG and NDG), grant number FA-9550-10-1-0232 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (TLG), and a John S. McDonnell Scholar Award (NDG).
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