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Gerd Gigerenzer: biography and work of this psychologist

Gerd Gigerenzer: biography and work of this psychologist

August 10, 2022

Gerd Gigerenzer is a German psychological acquaintance , currently leader of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the "Harding Center of Risk Literacy". He is an important author who, in addition to performing the previous positions, has studied and analyzed the role of heuristics and intuition in making decisions in our lives.

Throughout this article we will make a brief review of your figure, through a short biography of Gerd Gigerenzer and a look at his main contributions to the field of psychology.

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A short biography of Gerd Gigerenzer

Gerd Gigerenzer was born in Wallersdorf, Germany, on September 3, 1947. During his youth he expressed artistic concerns, and in fact he mentioned in some interviews having played the banjo and even played in the group "The Munich Beefeaters" that the band would play. sound to the first television ad of Volkswagen Golf. However, at one point decided to leave that world and turn to the academic world.


He graduated in psychology at the University of Munich , and in 1977 he obtained his doctorate in psychology at the same university with a thesis that would analyze nonmetric multidimensional scaling as a model of judgment behavior (Nonmetrische multidimensionale Skalierung als Modell des Urteils Verhaltens). That same year he would start working as a professor of psychology at the same institution that had trained him.

In 1984 he would move to the University of Constance, where he would remain until in 1990 he returned to move to the University of Salzburg. Two years later he would leave the position to work as a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.

Throughout his career as a teacher he would be the tutor of the doctorate of another great and renowned psychologist, Daniel Goldstein, with whom he would begin theorize about the recognition and heuristic processing of reality .


It would be in 1995 when, before his contribution to the psychological field, he would be appointed director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, an address that he continues to exercise today. As of 2008, in addition to that, he also directs the Harding Center for Risk Literacy. He also directed the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition (ABC) of the same institute. He married Lorraine Daston, a well-known historian of science and great authority regarding the history of the scientific and intellectual development of European modernity, with whom she has a daughter in common.

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Your life today

He is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, as well as the German Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Throughout his career he has received numerous awards , like the German Psychology Award, and has several Honoris Causa doctorates at other universities, such as the Open University of Netherlands. Their publications are also highly recognized, highlighting among them Instinctive decisions. The intelligence of the unconscious (Calculated Risks, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious). Finally, he is linked to several projects, such as one in which he works jointly with the Bank of England, "Simple heuristics for a safer World".


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His work and research areas

There are many contributions of Gerd Gigerenzer to the field of psychology, of which we will mention some of the best known.

Elements that stand out throughout his career are interest in aspects such as decision making, the role of heuristics , the restriction of time and uncertainty in it and the great power of intuition, social intelligence, communication of risks and training and strategies of doctors, judges and managers in decision making.

Among all this, perhaps the best known is the defense of the role of intuition in decision making, which has traditionally been considered as something aberrant and difficult to choose. Unlike most authors, Gigerenzer argues that most people make decisions based on their intuitions, starting with an unconscious intelligence.

The author also indicates that intuition is a product of evolution, the result of learning the rules that our species has acquired and incorporating its repertoire. This is used in making all kinds of decisions, especially those that involve emotional elements such as choosing a partner.

Mental shortcuts are useful

The studies carried out at the Max-Planck Institute show that, contrary to what logic seems to dictate, those people who are guided by intuition have to make effective decisions when using shortcuts. These mental shortcuts would save cognitive resources and allow rapid decision making, receiving the strategies used for this the name of heuristics. However, a logical analysis requires locating and analyzing all the possibilities, something that takes time and generates a less efficient choice.

The risk exists in choosing the rule that best applies to each case, something that for example could have negative consequences in the formation of prejudices and stereotypes, and cognitive biases may appear. In these cases, the problem would be that one of the rules learned and acquired throughout the life of the subject is being generalized, but not one applicable in the particular case in question.

Another of the elements for which he is best known is the idea of ​​the "Adaptative Toolbox" or "adaptive toolbox" , which mainly proposes that we have different cognitive systems, using one or the other as we need to adapt to a specific situation. Different domains of thought require different cognitive mechanisms, this idea being contrary to the existence of a universal strategy.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gigerenzer, G. (2008). Instinctive decisions. The intelligence of the unconscious. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel.
  • Gigerenzer, G & Selten, R. (2001). Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox. Dahlem Workshop Reports.
  • Corrales, E. (2010). Intuition as a cognitive process. Communication, Year 31, 19 (2): 33-42.

How do smart people make smart decisions? | Gerd Gigerenzer | TEDxNorrköping (August 2022).


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