On the Psychology of the Recognition Heuristic: Retrieval Primacy as a Key Determinant of Its Use

Thorsten Pachur, Ralph Hertwig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The recognition heuristic is a prime example of a boundedly rational mind tool that rests on an evolved capacity, recognition, and exploits environmental structures. When originally proposed, it was conjectured that no other probabilistic cue reverses the recognition-based inference (Goldstein & Gigerenzer, 2002). More recent studies challenged this view and gave rise to the argument that recognition enters inferences just like any other probabilistic cue. By linking research on the heuristic with research on recognition memory, the chapter argues that the retrieval of recognition information is not tantamount to the retrieval of other probabilistic cues. Specifically, the retrieval of subjective recognition precedes that of an objective probabilistic cue and occurs at little to no cognitive cost. This retrieval primacy gives rise to two predictions, both of which have been empirically supported: Inferences in line with the recognition heuristic (a) are made faster than inferences inconsistent with it and (b) are more prevalent under time pressure. Suspension of the heuristic, in contrast, requires additional time, and direct knowledge of the criterion variable, if available, can trigger such suspension.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHeuristics
Subtitle of host publicationThe Foundations of Adaptive Behavior
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199894727
ISBN (Print)9780199744282
StatePublished - 1 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision making
  • Ecological rationality
  • Fast-and-frugal heuristics
  • Memory
  • Recognition


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