Fuzzy Trace Theory

16 Jul

Politicians, sociologists and scientists are often concerned about how the general public make decisions, either for themselves in everyday life, or collectively in elections or facing political issues. Fuzzy trace theory (FTT) developed out of the puzzling observation that in spite of more detailed information being available, people’s decisions on health issues affecting them, did not change. More information did not lead to different decisions.

In FTT information is divided into the gist: a simplified summary of the nub of an issue and the verbatim: a more detailed and rigorous account, including probability data and rational scientific explanation.  The key element in FTT is that only the gist is key, with verbatim details including verbal and non-verbal data, graphs, numbers and pictures being of minor importance in the decision process.

By concentrating on the gist of an issue people are only interested in a rough bottom-line meaning to what might affect them. Many important decisions an individual may take on their wellbeing and life, for example, should I have an operation? are modelled by FTT.

FTT is framed as a continuum of information with individuals informing themselves at a place somewhere between gist and verbatim, filtering out and rejecting more information than they want to handle, such information is seen as  irrelevant and unhelpful. It is interesting that Artificial Intelligence researchers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to model this scenario for decades. Information overload is still alive and kicking.