Bounded rationality is the idea that rationality is limited, when individuals make decisions, by the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of the mind, and the time available to make the decision. Decision-makers, in this view, act as satisficers, seeking a satisfactory solution rather than an optimal one.
Herbert A. Simon proposed bounded rationality as an alternative basis for the mathematical modeling of decision-making, as used in economics, political science and related disciplines. It complements "rationality as optimization", which views decision-making as a fully rational process of finding an optimal choice given the information available.Simon used the analogy of a pair of scissors, where one blade represents "cognitive limitations" of actual humans and the other the "structures of the environment", illustrating how minds compensate for limited resources by exploiting known structural regularity in the environment. Many economics models assume that people are on average rational, and can in large enough quantities be approximated to act according to their preferences. With bounded rationality, Simon's goal was "to replace the global rationality of economic man with a kind of rational behavior that is compatible with the access to information and the computational capacities that are actually possessed by organisms, including man, in the kinds of environments in which such organisms exist." In short, the concept of bounded rationality revises notions of "perfect" rationality to account for the fact that perfectly rational decisions are often not feasible in practice because of the intractability of natural decision problems and the finite computational resources available for making them.
The concept of bounded rationality continues to influence (and be debated in) different disciplines, including economics, psychology, law, political science and cognitive science.Some models of human behavior in the social sciences assume that humans can be reasonably approximated or described as "rational" entities, as in rational choice theory or Downs Political Agency Models.
The term was coined by Herbert A. Simon. In Models of Man, Simon points out that most people are only partly rational, and are irrational in the remaining part of their actions. In another work, he states "boundedly rational agents experience limits in formulating and solving complex problems and in processing (receiving, storing, retrieving, transmitting) information".Simon describes a number of dimensions along which "classical" models of rationality can be made somewhat more realistic, while sticking within the vein of fairly rigorous formalization. These include:
Simon suggests that economic agents use heuristics to make decisions rather than a strict rigid rule of optimization. They do this because of the complexity of the situation.
As decision-makers have to make decisions about how and when to decide, Ariel Rubinstein proposed to model bounded rationality by explicitly specifying decision-making procedures.This puts the study of decision procedures on the research agenda.
Gerd Gigerenzer opines that decision theorists have not really adhered to Simon's original ideas. Rather, they have considered how decisions may be crippled by limitations to rationality, or have modeled how people might cope with their inability to optimize. Gigerenzer proposes and shows that simple heuristics often lead to better decisions than theoretically optimal procedures.
Huw Dixon later argues that it may not be necessary to analyze in detail the process of reasoning underlying bounded rationality. , then the set of epsilon-optimizing options S(ε) can be defined as all those options s such that:If we believe that agents will choose an action that gets them "close" to the optimum, then we can use the notion of epsilon-optimization, which means we choose our actions so that the payoff is within epsilon of the optimum. If we define the optimum (best possible) payoff as
The notion of strict rationality is then a special case (ε=0). The advantage of this approach is that it avoids having to specify in detail the process of reasoning, but rather simply assumes that whatever the process is, it is good enough to get near to the optimum.
From a computational point of view, decision procedures can be encoded in algorithms and heuristics. Edward Tsang argues that the effective rationality of an agent is determined by its computational intelligence. Everything else being equal, an agent that has better algorithms and heuristics could make "more rational" (more optimal) decisions than one that has poorer heuristics and algorithms.Tshilidzi Marwala and Evan Hurwitz in their study on bounded rationality observed that advances in technology (e.g. computer processing power because of Moore's law, artificial intelligence and big data analytics) expand the bounds that define the feasible rationality space. Because of this expansion of the bounds of rationality, machine automated decision making makes markets more efficient.
Bounded rationality implies the idea that humans take reasoning shortcuts that may lead to suboptimal decision-making. Behavioral economists engage in mapping the decision shortcuts that agents use in order to help increase the effectiveness of human decision-making. One treatment of this idea comes from Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler's Nudge .Sunstein and Thaler recommend that choice architectures are modified in light of human agents' bounded rationality. A widely cited proposal from Sunstein and Thaler urges that healthier food be placed at sight level in order to increase the likelihood that a person will opt for that choice instead of a less healthy option. Some critics of Nudge have lodged attacks that modifying choice architectures will lead to people becoming worse decision-makers.
Bounded rationality was shown to be essential to predict human sociability properties in a particular model by Vernon L. Smith and Michael J. Campbell.There, an agent-based model correctly predicts that agents are averse to resentment and punishment, and that there is an asymmetry between gratitude/reward and resentment/punishment. The purely rational Nash equilibrium is shown to have no predictive power for that model, and the boundedly rational Gibbs equilibrium must be used to predict phenomena outlined in Humanomics.
Recent research has shown that bounded rationality of individuals may influence the topology of the social networks that evolve among them. In particular, Kasthurirathna and Piraveenanhave shown that in socio-ecological systems, the drive towards improved rationality on average might be an evolutionary reason for the emergence of scale-free properties. They did this by simulating a number of strategic games on an initially random network with distributed bounded rationality, then re-wiring the network so that the network on average converged towards Nash equilibria, despite the bounded rationality of nodes. They observed that this re-wiring process results in scale-free networks. Since scale-free networks are ubiquitous in social systems, the link between bounded rationality distributions and social structure is an important one in explaining social phenomena.
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Herbert Alexander Simon was an American economist, political scientist and cognitive psychologist, whose primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theories of "bounded rationality" and "satisficing". He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 and the Turing Award in 1975. His research was noted for its interdisciplinary nature and spanned across the fields of cognitive science, computer science, public administration, management, and political science. He was at Carnegie Mellon University for most of his career, from 1949 to 2001.
A cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. Individuals create their own "subjective reality" from their perception of the input. An individual's construction of reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior in the world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.
Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason. Rationality implies the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, and of one's actions with one's reasons for action. "Rationality" has different specialized meanings in philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, evolutionary biology, game theory and political science.
A heuristictechnique, or a heuristic, is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Where finding an optimal solution is impossible or impractical, heuristic methods can be used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Heuristics can be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision.
Satisficing is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met. The term satisficing, a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice, was introduced by Herbert A. Simon in 1956, although the concept was first posted in his 1947 book Administrative Behavior. Simon used satisficing to explain the behavior of decision makers under circumstances in which an optimal solution cannot be determined. He maintained that many natural problems are characterized by computational intractability or a lack of information, both of which preclude the use of mathematical optimization procedures. He observed in his Nobel Prize in Economics speech that "decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world, or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world. Neither approach, in general, dominates the other, and both have continued to co-exist in the world of management science".
The term homo economicus, or economic man, is the portrayal of humans as agents who are consistently rational, narrowly self-interested, and who pursue their subjectively-defined ends optimally. It is a word play on Homo sapiens, used in some economic theories and in pedagogy.
Behavioral economics studies the effects of psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural and social factors on the decisions of individuals and institutions and how those decisions vary from those implied by classical economic theory.
Decision theory is the study of an agent's choices. Decision theory can be broken into two branches: normative decision theory, which analyzes the outcomes of decisions or determines the optimal decisions given constraints and assumptions, and descriptive decision theory, which analyzes how agents actually make the decisions they do.
Richard H. Thaler is an American economist and the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In 2015, Thaler was president of the American Economic Association.
Gerd Gigerenzer is a German psychologist who has studied the use of bounded rationality and heuristics in decision making. Gigerenzer is director emeritus of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition (ABC) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy, both in Berlin, Germany.
In economics, game theory, decision theory, and artificial intelligence, a rational agent is an agent that has clear preferences, models uncertainty via expected values of variables or functions of variables, and always chooses to perform the action with the optimal expected outcome for itself from among all feasible actions. A rational agent can be anything that makes decisions, typically a person, firm, machine, or software.
Daniel G. Goldstein is an American cognitive psychologist known for the specification and testing of heuristics and models of bounded rationality in the field of judgment and decision making. He is an honorary research fellow at London Business School and works with Microsoft Research as a principal researcher.
Attribute substitution, also known as Substitution bias, is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic attribute. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system. Hence, when someone tries to answer a difficult question, they may actually answer a related but different question, without realizing that a substitution has taken place. This explains why individuals can be unaware of their own biases, and why biases persist even when the subject is made aware of them. It also explains why human judgments often fail to show regression toward the mean.
Heuristics are simple strategies or mental processes that humans, animals, organizations and machines use to quickly form judgments, make decisions, and find solutions to complex problems. This happens when an individual focuses on the most relevant aspects of a problem or situation to formulate a solution.
The rationalist–constructivist debate is an ontological debate within international relations theory between rationalism and constructivism. In a 1998 article, Christian Reus-Smit and Richard Price suggested that the rationalist–constructivist debate was, or was about to become, the most significant in the discipline of international relations theory. The debate can be seen as to be centered on preference formation, with rationalist theories characterising changes in terms of shifts in capabilities, whereas constructivists focus on preference formation.
Cognitive bias mitigation is the prevention and reduction of the negative effects of cognitive biases – unconscious, automatic influences on human judgment and decision making that reliably produce reasoning errors.
Massimo Egidi is an Italian economist. He is Professor of Economics at Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli in Rome and former rector of the university. With Axel Leijonhuvfud is co-director of CELL, the Laboratory of Computable and Experimental Economics. His main research interests are related to the study of boundedly rational behaviors in organizations and institutions.
Ecological rationality is a particular account of practical rationality, which in turn specifies the norms of rational action – what one ought to do in order to act rationally. The presently dominant account of practical rationality in the social and behavioral sciences such as economics and psychology, rational choice theory, maintains that practical rationality consists in making decisions in accordance with some fixed rules, irrespective of context. Ecological rationality, in contrast, claims that the rationality of a decision depends on the circumstances in which it takes place, so as to achieve one's goals in this particular context. What is considered rational under the rational choice account thus might not always be considered rational under the ecological rationality account. Overall, rational choice theory puts a premium on internal logical consistency whereas ecological rationality targets external performance in the world. The term ecologically rational is only etymologically similar to the biological science of ecology.
In behavioural sciences, social rationality is a type of decision strategy used in social contexts, in which a set of simple rules is applied in complex and uncertain situations.
Ralph Hertwig is a German psychologist whose work focuses on the psychology of human judgment and decision making. Hertwig is Director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. He grew up with his brothers Steffen Hertwig and Michael Hertwig in Talheim, Heilbronn.