How to study cognitive decision algorithms
Judgment and Decision Making
Although the priority heuristic (PH) is conceived as a cognitive-process model, some of its critical process assumptions remain to be tested. The PH makes very strong ordinal and quantitative assumptions about the strictly sequential, non-compensatory use of three cues in choices between lotteries: (1) the difference between worst outcomes, (2) the difference in worst-case probabilities, and (3) the best outcome that can be obtained. These aspects were manipulated orthogonally in the present
... y in the present experiment. No support was found for the PH. Although the main effect of the primary worst-outcome manipulation was significant, it came along with other effects that the PH excludes. A strong effect of the secondary manipulation of worst-outcome probabilities was not confined to small differences in worst-outcomes; it was actually stronger for large worst-outcome differences. Overall winning probabilities that the PH ignores exerted a systematic influence. The overall rate of choices correctly predicted by the PH was close to chance, although high inter-judge agreement reflected systematic responding. These findings raise fundamental questions about the theoretical status of heuristics as fixed modules.