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Recognition-primed decision (RPD) is a model of how people make quick, effective decisions when faced with complex situations. In this model, the decision maker is assumed to generate a possible course of action, compare it to the constraints imposed by the situation, and select the first course of action that is not rejected. This technique has benefits in that it is rapid, but is prone to serious failure in unusual or misidentified circumstances. It appears to be a valid model for how human decision-makers make decisions.



The RPD model identifies a reasonable reaction as the first one that is immediately considered. RPD combines two ways of developing a decision; the first is recognizing which course of action makes sense, and the second, evaluating the cause of action through imagination to see if the actions resulting from that decision make sense. However, the difference of being experienced or inexperienced plays a major factor in the decision-making processes.

RPD reveals a critical difference between experts and novices when presented with recurring situations. Experienced people will generally be able to come up with quicker decision because the situation may match a prototypical situation they have encountered before. Novices, lacking this experience, must cycle through different possibilities, and tend to use the first course of action that they believe will work. The inexperienced also have the tendencies of using trial and error through their imagination.


There are three variations in RPD strategy. In variation 1, decision makers recognize the situation as typical, so they know what course of action they will do. They immediately know the goals, priorities and the steps of the course of action in the given situation. Variation 1 is basically an “If… then,” reaction. One situation can lead to the immediate course of action due to its typicality.

Variation 2 occurs when the decision maker diagnoses the situation to develop a course of action. Variation 2 takes the form of “If (???)… Then,” In order to prevent complications and misinformation the decision maker is more concerned about the situation rather than the course of action or the goal.

In Variation 3, the decision maker is knowledgeable of the situation but unaware of the proper course of action. Implementing a mental simulated trial and error to develop the most effective course of action. The mental simulation helps in finding out the consequences of the different types of course of action. Cycling through different courses of actions to take, if one does not work, they will proceed to the next course of action until they come up with the first effective course of action. Variation 3 takes the form of “if… then (???)” where in the decision maker considers other outcomes of a reaction. However, the relevance of inexperience lies here. Inexperienced decision makers are more likely to develop different types of course of action before he chooses the most proficient course of action.


Recognition primed decision making is highly relevant to the leaders or officers of organizations that are affiliated with emergency services such as fire fighters, search and rescue units, police, and other emergency services. It is applied to both the experienced and the inexperienced, and how they manage their decision making processes. The Recognition primed decision making model is developed as samples for organizations on how important decisions can affect important situations which may either save lives or take lives. The model develop can be used as a study for organizations to fill in the gaps and to determine which type of RPD variation is more applicable to the organization.

RPD-enabled Software Agents

See also


  • Gary A. Klein, (1998) "Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions", MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, pp. 1-30.

External links



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