Ecological rationality

Bounded rationality in an evolutionary light

Authored by: Samuel A. Nordli , Peter M. Todd

Routledge Handbook of Bounded Rationality

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138999381
eBook ISBN: 9781315658353
Adobe ISBN:


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The study of ecological rationality situates Simon’s notion of bounded rationality within the framework of natural selection, emphasizing that the evolved capacities of decision-making organisms have been shaped by and are adapted to the structure and fitness pressures of ancestral environments. Research in ecological rationality considers the fit between decision mechanisms and the structure of decision environments in order to understand behavioral outcomes in specific decision contexts. This chapter focuses on the importance of goals in decision making, highlighting how decision makers use cues about environment structure to efficiently determine which behaviors or strategies will best serve goal pursuit; research in ecological rationality, behavioral ecology, and neuroscience is used to draw connections between fast and frugal heuristics, fixed action patterns, rules of thumb, and habits, framing each as examples of cue-driven iteration/variation of past behavior used to pursue goals in present contexts. The chapter closes with a review of specific examples from ecological rationality research, an overview of how the ecological rationality perspective can help understand behavior that fails to match classically rational expectations, and finally with a discussion on future directions for research in ecological rationality.

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