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Professor Dr. Ralph Hertwig

Cognitive Psychology, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig
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Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig

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Ralph Hertwig will be recognised with the 2017 Leibniz Prize for his pioneering work in the psychology of human judgement and decision-making. His research has expanded our understanding of the possibilities and limitations of human rationality. Hertwig investigates the strategies which humans use, faced with limited knowledge, limited cognitive resources and often limited time, to nonetheless make good decisions and organise their actions. Central to his work is the question why a limitation also constitutes a strength, in other words how adaptive heuristics, as simple rules of thumb for problem-solving, can be as effective as complex optimisation models. Another of Hertwig’s important contributions to decision research is the distinction between experience-based and description-based assessment of risk. This explains why the dramatic consequences of climate change, for example, are systematically underestimated by society, because although there is plenty of information available to describe the problem, there is little everyday experience – the main thing that people base their decisions on.

Ralph Hertwig has been the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development since 2012 and heads the Center for Adaptive Rationality. Hertwig began his scientific career in 1995 at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich. In 1997 he moved to the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. Between 2000 and 2002 he was a Research Fellow at Columbia University. In 2003 he obtained his habilitation from the Free University of Berlin. In 2005 he was appointed Professor of Cognitive Science and Decision Psychology at the University of Basel, and moved from there to his current position.

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