Better than Rational

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (1994). Better than rational: Evolutionary psychology and the invisible hand. American Economic Review, 84 (2), 327-332.


[Mainstream Psychologists and behaviourists have studied] “biases” and “fallacies”-many of which are turning out to be experimental artifacts or misinterpretations (see G. Gigerenzer, 1991). [Gigerenzer, G. “How to Make Cognitive Illusions Disappear: Beyond Heuristics and Biases,” in W. Stroebe and M. Hewstone, eds.,  European review of social psychology, Vol. 2. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley, 1991, pp. 83-115.]


One point is particularly important for economists to appreciate: it can be demonstrated that “rational” decision-making methods (i.e., the usual methods drawn from logic, mathematics, and probability theory) are computationally very weak: incapable of solving the natural adaptive problems our ancestors had to solve reliably in order to reproduce (e.g., Cosmides and Tooby, 1987; Tooby and Cosmides, 1992a; Steven Pinker, 1994).

…  sharing rules [should be] appealing in conditions of high variance, and unappealing when resource accrual is a matter of effort rather than of luck (Cosmides and Tooby, 1992).


They rightly criticise ‘some methods’ drawn from mathematics etc, but some have interpreted as meaning that “logic, mathematics, and probability theory are … incapable of solving the natural adaptive problems our ancestors had to solve reliably in order to reproduce”. But this leads them to overlook relevant theories, such as Whitehead and Keynes‘.

See Also

Relevant mathematics, Avoiding unknown probabilities, Kahneman on biases


This has been copied to my bibliography section under ‘rationality and uncertainty’, ‘more …’, where it has more links. Please comment there.

Dave Marsay


About Dave Marsay
Mathematician with an interest in 'good' reasoning.

3 Responses to Better than Rational

  1. Pingback: When and why do people avoid unknown probabilities in decisions under uncertainty? | djmarsay

  2. Pingback: Reasoning and natural selection | djmarsay

  3. Pingback: The evolution of probability theory « salesmarketingessentials

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