The anchoring bias reflects rational use of cognitive resources

Falk Lieder, Thomas L. Griffiths, Quentin J. Quentin, Noah D. Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Cognitive biases, such as the anchoring bias, pose a serious challenge to rational accounts of human cognition. We investigate whether rational theories can meet this challenge by taking into account the mind’s bounded cognitive resources. We asked what reasoning under uncertainty would look like if people made rational use of their finite time and limited cognitive resources. To answer this question, we applied a mathematical theory of bounded rationality to the problem of numerical estimation. Our analysis led to a rational process model that can be interpreted in terms of anchoring-and-adjustment. This model provided a unifying explanation for ten anchoring phenomena including the differential effect of accuracy motivation on the bias towards provided versus self-generated anchors. Our results illustrate the potential of resource-rational analysis to provide formal theories that can unify a wide range of empirical results and reconcile the impressive capacities of the human mind with its apparently irrational cognitive biases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-349
Number of pages28
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Anchoring-and-adjustment
  • Bounded rationality
  • Cognitive biases
  • Heuristics
  • Probabilistic reasoning
  • Rational process models


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