Is there any scientific study or theory which supports the following claim? - People always decide to act in accordance with things they believe will guarantee them the maximum amount of positive feelings in their conscious life.

Are there any other variables that play a role in the person's decision-making?

(*Note please that I don't have a background in psychology.)

  • $\begingroup$ Where does this claim come from? Or, what motivates you to formulate this hypothesis? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Aug 27, 2019 at 15:07

2 Answers 2


I would say that the more compelling scientific evidence would suggest the opposite.

Daniel Kahnemann got a Nobel Prize for behavioural economics, part of which discussed that the default decision making is not a rational, thought through process. His book Thinking Fast and Slow discusses it quite well.

Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational discusses similar concepts, and covers some cognitive biases - specific examples of how people make decisions other than following rational decision making process.

Both of these books are readily accessible for people without a Psychology background.

One of the books suggested a way to reduce the impact of this tendency: draft out the framework for the decision making process before going into the decision environment.

I'd suggest that more decisions are made from the aspect of minimising negative feelings in the short to medium term.


Also worth having a look at Robert Sapolsky’ 2017 book Behave. There’s a good summary of all the hidden forces motivating seemingly inexplicable behaviours. For example, why does revenge taste so sweet? Turns out that one of the headiest dopamine hits our brain receives is when we punish someone. Having done so, we may feel guilty afterwards. What’s that all about? Both are evolutionary mechanisms for supporting kin co-operation (the fourth evolutionary force) and solve the ‘freeloading’ problem.

Many of our impulses are a combination of:

  • Hormones and neuropeptides, such as dopamine and oxytocin, 600m years old
  • Nervous system development - from 500m years BCE
  • Brain development - from 500m years ago to the development of the human prefrontal cortex, c 5m years ago

What ‘feels good’ and ‘bad’ is often expressed in the brains reward system (especially the ventral striatum) using much of this very ancient apparatus. We are generally biased to following these instincts because they are what enabled our species to meet the four evolutionary challenges of survival, sexual selection, kin selection and kin co-operation.

Reference: David Buss ed Evolutionary Psychology, Fifth Edition


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