Rational Choice

So I’m going to try this out.

I’m thinking about rational choice today since it’s one of our topics in the Comparative Core today, and I read last night that Tsebelis believes

“Instead of the concept of rationality as a model of human behavior, I propose the concept of rationality as a subset of human behavior.  The change in perspective is important: I do not claim that rational choice can explain every phenomenon and that there is no room for other explanations, but I do claim that rational choice is a better approach to situations in which the actors’ identity and goals are established and the rules of interaction are precise and known to interacting agents.  As the actors’ goals become fuzzy, or as the rules of the interaction become more fluid and imprecise, rational choice explanations become more applicable.”

(Nested Games, 32-33).

I don’t know a whole lot about rational choice, so I’m kind of looking for those folks who think about it alot.  Would the following be a useful experiment to test Tsebelis’s idea:

We get test subjects to play a game of poker for money.  Unlike regular poker, there are a few important differences.  It is done by computer, whereby the players cannot see each other, and the order of play is randomized for every hand so players cannot pick up on the playing styles of other players.  Additionally, the computer calculates and displays pot odds and hand-specific probabilities for each player (viewable only by the particular player, not the whole group).  Then we observe whether players play perfectly rationally, and if not, we measure the deviation from rational.  If we’re lucky, the deviation might even settle at some normal range, which we could say is the normal deviation from rational in the context of highly transparent decision-making.

What do you think?  Are there scholars out there who have done similar work?  If so, what have they found?  Do we have a precise idea of how irrational people generally are?

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About Jake Wobig

I teach international relations and comparative politics at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina
This entry was posted in Philosophy of Science and Epistemology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Rational Choice

  1. Sorry Jake, I just assumed that everything on this blog was Mike’s. Doug

  2. Games like poker are mutually exclusive. The goal of the game like that is to maximize individual outcome at the expense of others. So, why would we expect otherwise? The Ultimatum game, on the other hand, has been empirically demonstrated to have cross-cultural human behavior which does not fit with rationality. See Lopomo and Ok 2001; Spitzer et al 2007. If you are looking for empirical deviations from utility maximizing behavior, then I would recommend the following as only a sample: Kahneman and Tversky 1979; Simon 1995; Jones 2001; Taber 2003; Camerer et al 2005

  3. I’ve been waiting for other people to something with this.. at last! It is happening.

    Blogging goodness.

    Though I’m not terribly familiar with the literature, I think it is an interesting idea that rational choice (or, for that matter, any other theory of human behavior) might be treated as a smaller part of a greater whole. Given the right information and processing capability, perhaps people do act rationally.. when they can.

    Of course, I might just be thinking of bounded rationality.

  4. Jake says:

    So what do those authors say (in brief) about deviations from utility maximizing behavior in transparent situations? Is there a general number we can expect in certain situations?

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