Rationality: research shows we’re not as stupid as we have been led to believe

George Farmer and Paul Warren in The Conversation:

Rationality has long been an important concept in the study of judgement and decision making. The highly influential work of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky comprehensively showed that we often fail to make rational decisions – such as worrying about a terrorist attack but not about crossing the road.

But this failure is based on a strict interpretation of what it is to be rational – obeying the laws of logic and probability. It is not interested in the machine that must weigh up the evidence and reach a decision. In our case, that machine is the human brain – and like any physical system, it has its limits.

Although our decision making falls short of the standards required by logic and mathematics, there is still a role for rationality in understanding human cognition. The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has shown that while many of the heuristics we use may not be perfect, they are both useful and efficient.

But a recent approach called computational rationality goes a step further, borrowing an idea from artificial intelligence. It suggests that a system with limited abilities can still take an optimal course of action.

More here.