Valerie F. Reyna
Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor
Director, Human Neuroscience Institute
Director, Cornell University Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility
Co-Director, Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research
"A Fuzzy-Trace Theory of Risky Decision-making: Healthy, Unhealthy, and Downright Criminal"
Recent advances in behavioral and brain research on fuzzy-trace theory are discussed, contrasting decision-making based on meaningful gist versus more precise literal thinking. The theory accounts for central phenomena in decision theory, such as framing biases and the Allais paradox, as described in a formal model of these processes (Broniatowski & Reyna, 2017). The theory also makes a surprising prediction about the origins of these biases and paradoxes, namely, they emerge from childhood to adulthood (Kogut & Slovic, 2016): Children, and adolescent risk takers, are more objective and “rational” than adults (Kwak, Payne, Cohen, & Huettel, 2015). Consistent with the idea that gist-based biases reflect developmentally sophisticated reasoning, unhealthy risk-taking in adolescence was associated with failure to show irrational biases that characterize healthy adults. In addition, both behavioral risk-taking and brain activation—including criminal risk-taking—were correlated with failure to show these biases in adulthood (Reyna, Helm, Weldon, Shah, Turpin, & Govindgari, in press). I explore implications of these results for understanding criminal and non-criminal risk-taking, and for promoting healthy decision-making (Blalock & Reyna, 2016; Helm, Reyna, Franz, & Novick, 2017).