Born: 1934, Tel Aviv, Israel Nat: Israeli Ints: Experimental and social psychology Educ: BA Hebrew University, Jerusalem. 1954; PhD University of California, 1961 Appts & awards: Professor of Psychology, University of California at Berkeley; Katz-Newcomb Lecturer in Social Psychology, 1979-; Fellow, Centre for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, 1977-78; Fellow, APA, Canadian Psychological Association; APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, 1982
Kahneman spent his childhood in France and returned to Israel in 1946. He graduated from high school in 1951 and studied psychology and mathematics at Hebrew University. In 1955 he joined a military unit responsible for the classification and selection of recruits. He constructed and validated a semi-structured interview schedule for personality assessment. When training interviewers he noted that they were often poor judges of the quality of their work. They only made valid predictions of a recruit's military adjustment when forced to think in concrete terms of his civilian past. However, they were often most confident when attempting to predict the future on the basis of vague impressions. After his discharge, Kahneman returned to the Hebrew University, taking courses in logic and philosophy of science. The university offered him support for graduate study abroad and he chose to go to Berkeley.
His collaboration with Amos Tversky started in 1969 when Kahneman invited Tversky to lecture on probability assessment at the Hebrew University. Their first paper concerned the law of small numbers. Their continued collaboration led to fundamental advances in our understanding of heuristics and biases. In most of their work they focused on heuristics concerning probabilistic thinking, and specifically three heuristics: availability, representativeness, and anchoring and adjustment. The availability heuristic refers to people's tendency to estimate the likelihood of an event on the basis of the ease with which instances of that event come to mind. They demonstrated that people generally overestimate the probability of an event if concrete instances of it readily come to mind. The representativeness heuristic refers to the tendency to assess the probability that a stimulus belongs to a certain class by judging the degree to which that event corresponds to an appropriate mental model. For example, in a classic study subjects were provided with prief personality sketches, supposedly of engineers and lawyers. They were invited to assess the likelihood that each sketch described a member of one profession or the other. Half the subjects were told the population from which the sketches were drawn consisted of thirty engineers and seventy lawyers and the other half were told that there were seventy engineers and thirty lawyers. Subjects ignored information about prior probabilities and estimated the probability of the class membership by assessing how similar each personality sketch was to their mental model of an engineer or model. Finally, anchoring and adjustment refers to a general judgement process in which an initially given or generated response acts as an anchor, and supplementary information is insufficiently used to adjust that response.
Kahneman and Tversky's analysis of the cognitive and situational factors that cause these errors and biases has provided important insight into the psychological processes that govern human judgements and decision making and has informed the development of new ways of improving the quality of our thinking.
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