Posted by on Nov 11, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

pic c/o

Interesting lunchtime chat yesterday by The Stevens – authors of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics at the RSA

Was struck by their criticism of a lot of those (like er…me) looking to unpick the rational choice model which lies at the heart of so many of the behavioural sciences. 

I think they have a point in suggesting that much of the experimental evidence that is used to demonstrate e.g. our species' innate altruism in fact serves merely to support the general principle that behaviour tends to be context dependent.

That said, I think they then – like most of their ilk – go on to miss the really big point that most of the time the key aspect of the context for most human behaviour is other people and grab back instead onto the old individualist model. Given our soecies' social nature, considering any aspect of human behavior independently of the social context seems to be…missing the point…


  1. Ross
    November 12, 2009

    Interesting blog, Mark.
    I watched the same talk on my latptop at work and wondered if rationalists and ‘social driving behaviour’ types are so far apart?
    My point: people make individual rational decisions based on the circumstance, however many of the parameters they’re trying to optimise are social ones (standing, trust, etc).

  2. Mark Earls
    November 12, 2009

    Thanks for that, Ross.
    Except that they don’t make individual rational decisions. On the one hand, the neuroscientists are quite clear that rational thinking is as rare as hen’s teeth (“More rationalizing than rational” Aronsen) and on the other hand it’s also evident from a range of other cognitive and behavioural sciences that the “When in Rome” strategy is one we use an awful lot of the time (and more than we’d like to admit to) see e.g.

  3. Sebastian
    November 18, 2009

    I studied psychology and sociology at university level for 2 years hoping it would give me a better understanding of people and their actions.
    I never finished the course precisely because I could not bring myself to believe the rational choice model (although they didn’t call it that). I then studied advertising, which led me to marketing (the measurement of which led me to economics, but that’s beside the point) and the implied acceptance of marketers that people are not rational fits much better with my experience.
    Thanks for the great blog Mark. Rationality in behaviour is a false belief!