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Advantages and Disadvantages of Cognitive Heuristics in Political Decision Making

Richard R. Lau and David P. Redlawsk
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 951-971
DOI: 10.2307/2669334
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2669334
Page Count: 21
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Cognitive Heuristics in Political Decision Making
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Abstract

This article challenges the often untested assumption that cognitive "heuristics" improve the decision-making abilities of everyday voters. The potential benefits and costs of five common political heuristics are discussed. A new dynamic process-tracing methodology is employed to directly observe the use of these five heuristics by voters in a mock presidential election campaign. We find that cognitive heuristics are at times employed by almost all voters and that they are particularly likely to be used when the choice situation facing voters is complex. A hypothesized interaction between political sophistication and heuristic use on the quality of decision making is obtained across several different experiments, however. As predicted, heuristic use generally increases the probability of a correct vote by political experts but decreases the probability of a correct vote by novices. A situation in which experts can be led astray by heuristic use is also illustrated. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for strategies to increase input from under-represented groups into the political process.

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