The recognition heuristic: A review of theory and tests

Thorsten Pachur, Peter M. Todd, Gerd Gigerenzer, Lael J. Schooler, Daniel G. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The recognition heuristic is a prime example of how, by exploiting a match between mind and environment, a simple mental strategy can lead to efficient decision making. The proposal of the heuristic initiated a debate about the processes underlying the use of recognition in decision making. We review research addressing four key aspects of the recognition heuristic: (a) that recognition is often an ecologically valid cue; (b) that people often follow recognition when making inferences; (c) that recognition supersedes further cue knowledge; (d) that its use can produce the less-is-more effect the phenomenon that lesser states of recognition knowledge can lead to more accurate inferences than more complete states. After we contrast the recognition heuristic to other related concepts, including availability and fluency, we carve out, from the existing findings, some boundary conditions of the use of the recognition heuristic as well as key questions for future research. Moreover, we summarize developments concerning the connection of the recognition heuristic with memory models. We suggest that the recognition heuristic is used adaptively and that, compared to other cues, recognition seems to have a special status in decision making. Finally, we discuss how systematic ignorance is exploited in other cognitive mechanisms (e.g., estimation and preference).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 147
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision strategy
  • Ecological rationality
  • Heuristics
  • Memory
  • Recognition heuristic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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