Cognitive Science > Decision Sciences >
Limited rationality

Last updated on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.



An audio version of this document will soon be available to you at The Studio Coohorte gives you access to the best audio synthesis on the market in a sleek and powerful interface. If you'd like, you can learn more and test their advanced text-to-speech service yourself.

Limited rationality refers to the idea that individuals do not always make decisions based on complete information or optimal logic, but instead rely on simplified mental shortcuts and rules of thumb to make judgments and choices. This concept, often associated with the field of behavioral economics, acknowledges that our cognitive resources are finite and that our decision-making processes are influenced by emotions, biases, and social factors.

The Concept of Limited Rationality in Cognitive Science

When we think of decision-making, we often assume that individuals act in a rational and logical manner, weighing all available options and choosing the best course of action. However, cognitive scientists have long recognized that this idealized model of decision-making does not always align with reality. This discrepancy is where the concept of limited rationality comes into play.

What is Limited Rationality?

Limited rationality, also known as bounded rationality, is the idea that humans do not always make decisions that are fully rational due to cognitive limitations, time constraints, and incomplete information. This concept was introduced by Nobel laureate Herbert Simon in the 1950s as an alternative to the traditional economic theory of rational decision-making.

Herbert Simon argued that rather than optimizing every decision, individuals typically satisfice - they choose options that are "good enough" rather than exhaustively searching for the best possible outcome. This bounded approach to decision-making helps individuals navigate complex and uncertain environments more efficiently.

Implications of Limited Rationality

Understanding the limitations of rationality has significant implications across various fields, from economics to psychology. By acknowledging that individuals do not always act in a purely rational manner, researchers can develop more realistic models of decision-making that better reflect human behavior.

Moreover, recognizing the role of limited rationality can inform strategies for improving decision-making processes, both at the individual and organizational levels. By designing decision aids, implementing nudges, and simplifying choices, practitioners can help mitigate the negative effects of cognitive biases and heuristics that arise from limited rationality.

Overall, the concept of limited rationality challenges the notion of humans as perfectly rational decision-makers and emphasizes the importance of understanding and working within the bounds of human cognition.


If you want to learn more about this subject, we recommend these books.


You may also be interested in the following topics: