Leda Cosmides; John Tooby The American Economic Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1994), 327-332.
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Better than Rational: Evolutionary Psychology and the Invisible Hand
Several years ago, we attended an interdisciplinary seminar on whatwere purported to be "biases" in negotiation behavior. The economists, psychologists, and biologists present were mulling over the data when, suddenly, a prominent economist lit up. "Ah, I see,'" he said, "behavior is either rational or it's psychological." This formulation stuck in our minds, because it seemed to succinctly give voice to a tacit assumption held by many economists -one that we thinkworks to the detriment of economics, by isolating it from the relevant parts of biology, psychology, and the rest of the natural sciences. This assumption is that rational behavior is the state of nature, requiring no explanation. Explanations that invoke the cognitive processes that actually generate human choices are required only when behavior deviates from this state of nature. In this view,economics is grounded in assumptions of rational behavior, is theoretically constructed out of what logically follows from assuming rational behavior, and gains specificity by plugging in a variety of variables that are kept exogenous to economics, such as preferences. Merchants of the ad hoc and exogenous, psychologists are called in only to provide second-order corrections to economic theory,usually by furnishing a catalog of oddities and quirks in human reasoning (e.g., "biases" and "fallacies"-many of which are turning out to be experimental artifacts or misinterpretations; see G.
*Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, and Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, respectively. For enlightening discussions,we warmly thank Gerd Gigerenzer, Robert Nozick, and Paul Romer. For financial support, we are grateful to the McDonell Foundation and NSF Grant No. BNS9157-449 to Tooby. 327
Gigerenzer, 1991). And for the many behavioral domains where standards of rationality are unclear or undefined, economics is presently mute. From a broader scientific perspective, this formulation is decidedly odd.Rational behavior is not, in any sense, the state of nature. Not behaving at all is the state of nature in a universe that includes lifeless planets, prebiotic soup, mountains, trees, and tables. All departures from this state of inaction require explanation. Moreover, the behavioral repertoires of various animals differ profoundly from one another, and this must be explained as well: bats cannot...