Bounded rationality

Are humans rational, irrational or both in their daily lives? A better way to approach the problem, in my view, is to bypass it and assume human beings are plain ‘cognitive misers’ (term used by social psychologists and researchers on psychology of the mind) striving to make the best decisions under the constraints placed by situations (e.g., framing effects) and by their own level of resources (e.g., available level of working memory, knowledge, time). The cognitive miser is strongly influenced by subtle cues (e.g., priming, construal level, regulatory focus, mindsets), herding, cultural mores, identity cues and all sorts of persuasion appeals. When he/she has the proper resources in a benign environment, we can expect good decisions (i.e., decisions that advance one’s and society’s well-being in the long term). Hence, the role of any social agent trying to shape the environment to make it conducive to good decisions boils down to opening up Lewinian ‘channel factors’ (our familiar barriers/benefits tool), fighting for attractive ‘environments’ (e.g., doing the messy, lengthy work of upstream change) and designing benign ‘triggers’ (e.g., appeal to proper identities) in a social environment that usually drains people’s money, energy and time (see the ubiquity of cellphones and the evidence of how their mere presence drains mental resources). In the end, I think the rationality amidst this messy interaction between people and their contexts may be found in the systems producing designers of social behaviors (like social marketers or behavioral economists). From the viewpoint of social marketing, rationality lies in the proper use of critical marketing’s repertoire, among other elements.