2
$\begingroup$

Can anyone point me to a couple prominent papers on Simon's concept of bounded rationality (i.e., that human rationality is shaped by limitations in our ability to ingest and process information)? Specifically, I'm looking for empirical evidence for or against and arguments against (I'm content with Simon's own arguments for.) I know the literature on this is extensive; I just need a very high-level overview with some credible scholarly support.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Re "I'm looking for empirical evidence for or against and arguments against (I'm content with Simon's own arguments for.)" Is there a missing "not" somewhere in there? $\endgroup$ – Fizz Dec 8 '17 at 4:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No. I'm looking for empirical evidence for it, empirical evidence against it, or theoretical arguments against it. I don't need theoretical arguments for it because Simon makes a good argument already. My syntax is awkward, but that's what I meant. $\endgroup$ – Sigfried Dec 8 '17 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and I remembered Suchman"s situated action idea. So maybe I just need empirical evidence, not more theory. $\endgroup$ – Sigfried Dec 8 '17 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you to @fizz for the answer below. I've selected it on the basis of a minimal glance, having been helpfully warned by a classmate that asking questions like this to help with a take-home exam could be seen as academic dishonesty. My slight glance was enough to assure me that the papers Fizz recommends are unfamiliar, so I won't cite them by accident. I'll come back after I've turned in the exam because I am genuinely curious. $\endgroup$ – Sigfried Dec 12 '17 at 16:20
1
$\begingroup$

The Paradox of Choice is probably the area best supported by empirical evidence that argues for [the existence of] satisficiers. If you'd rather read a shorter paper, "Maximizing versus satisficing: happiness is a matter of choice." with the same lead author (Barryt Schwartz) has > 1K citation in Google Scholar; there's a free pdf in CiteseerX. And on the flip-side of that, Scheibehenne et al.'s "Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload" "a meta-analysis of 63 conditions from 50 published and unpublished experiments (N = 5,036), we found a mean effect size of virtually zero but considerable variance between studies". The latter paper has about 500 citations in GS, but it's also published in 2010 vs 2002 for the Schwartz et al. paper. That might not be the last word in this matter, because 2015 brought us Chernev et al.'s "Choice Overload: a Conceptual Review and Meta-analysis" while agreeing with the zero overall effect from the 2010 meta-analysis, does a meta-regression to obtain as significant explanatory variables for the variance: choice set complexity, decision task difficulty, preference uncertainty, and decision goal. As the names of these are not always self-explanatory, here's the authors' details:

(1) The complexity of the choice set describes the aspects of the decision set associated with the particular values of the choice options: the presence of a dominant option in the choice set, the overall attractiveness of the options in the choice set, and the relationship between individual options in the decision set (alignability and complementarity); (2) The difficulty of the decision task refers to the general structural characteristics of the decision problem: time constraints, decision accountability, and number of attributes describing each option; (3) Preference uncertainty refers to the degree to which individuals have articulated preferences with respect to the decision at hand and has been operationalized by two factors: the level of product-specific expertise and the availability of an articulated ideal point; and (4) The decision goal reflects the degree to which individuals aim to minimize the cognitive effort involved in making a choice among the options contained in the available assortments and is operationalized by two measures: decision intent (buying vs. browsing) and decision focus (choosing an assortment vs. choosing a particular option). In this context, we expect higher levels of decision task difficulty, greater choice set complexity, higher preference uncertainty, and a more prominent, effort-minimizing goal to produce greater choice overload.

The latter paper is too new to assess its impact but insofar it has about 70 citations in GS, which is not too shabby.


Another highly cited paper is Kahneman's "Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics". Although it has "Bounded Rationality" in its title and pays homage to Simon in the opening paragraph, this is farther from Simon's own ideas of satisficing as the basis of bounded rationality. Kahaneman proposes that "(i) that most judgments and most choices are made intuitively; (ii) that the rules that govern intuition are generally similar to the rules of perception". The kinds of problems used to illustrate the latter (e.g. the bat and ball problem) are not necessarily the choice problems that Simon had in mind.


And on a somewhat (but not entirely) contrarian note, Camerer's book Behavioral Game Theory (>5 K citations if GS is correct) (see this for a review), which has a sort of precis in a paper of his (much less cited thatn the book though), states:

Even though strategic thinking is limited, behaviour can approximate equilibrium predictions surprisingly well if people can learn over time (or through imitation or some other adaptive process).

And he has some experimental data to prove it. I'm a bit surprised computer scientists don't stroke their ego more often with the result from 'table 1' in this paper of Camerer. I guess it's not that well known (only about ~100 citations).

Anyway, my point here is that unlike the one-off experiments with choice or puzzles, iterated versions tend to produce results suggesting that the bounds on human rationality are farther than might be conceived in simpler experiments. But simultaneously this finding is also an argument for bounded rationality, at least a computational version thereof.

And speaking computational interpretations, there have been some theoretical works examining (arguing for) bounded rationality from the latter perspective, e.g. Kao and Velupillai; the latter author also has a book-length exposition titled Computable Economics. Frankly the only people who seem to argue against any bounds (as opposed to just bounds in some 'homo economicus' experiments) are those who argue for a non-computational theory of mind, like Penrose so forth; SEP has a good review of these.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.