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Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making$
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Peter Hammerstein and Jeffrey R. Stevens

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262018081

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262018081.001.0001

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Advantages of Cognitive Limitations

Advantages of Cognitive Limitations

(p.169) 10 Advantages of Cognitive Limitations
Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making

Yaakov Kareev

The MIT Press

Being a product of evolutionary pressures, it would not be surprising to find that what seems to be a limitation of the cognitive system is actually a fine-tuned compromise between a set of competing needs. This thesis is demonstrated using the case of the limited capacity of short-term memory, which is often regarded as the prime example of a cognitive limitation. Short-term memory can hold only a small number of items; originally estimated at 7±2 items, it is now believed to be closer to 4 or 5. Because it is the part of the cognitive system that holds the information available for conscious processing, its capacity sets an upper limit on the size of the sample that may be considered to determine characteristics of the environment. Obviously, the smaller that size, the higher the risk of obtaining inaccurate estimates of important parameters. However, at the same time, it can be shown that the very same limitation also carries with it a number of advantages. This chapter shows that short-term memory, which at first sight might appear to be a major cognitive limitation, actually represents a fine-tuned compromise between a set of competing needs.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, decision making, short-term memory, choice probabalities, correlation detection, error-prone estimates

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