Rational Choice Theory (TER) is a proposition that arises in the social sciences applied mainly to economics, but which has shifted to the analysis of human behavior. The TER focuses on how an individual performs the “choose” action. In other words, it asks questions about the cognitive and social models through which an individual directs his actions.
In this article, we will look at what rational choice theory is, how it arises and where it has been applied, and finally we will present some criticisms that have been made recently.
What is rational choice theory (TER)?
Rational Choice Theory (TER) is a school of thought based on the proposition that individual choices are made based on individual personal preferences.
Therefore, the TER is also a model for explaining how we make decisions (especially in the economic and political context, but it also applies in others where it is important to know how we decide actions and how that affects on a large scale).). Rational generally refers to the fact that the choices we make they are consistent with our personal preferences, Derived from them logically.
What is a rational choice according to the TER?
A choice is the act of selecting one of several available alternatives and of conducting our conduct in accordance with that selection. Sometimes elections are implicitOther times, they are self-explanatory. In other words, sometimes we take them automatically, especially if they correspond to basic needs or to maintain our integrity or our survival.
On the other hand, explicit choices are those we consciously (rationally) make as a result. which we consider to be the most suitable option for our interests.
The proposition of TER, in general, is that we humans choose fundamentally rationally. That is, on the basis of the ability to think and imagine the possible side effects of the alternatives we have before a decision and from there to select the alternatives that are most appropriate to our advantage at that time (under a cost-benefit logic).
The latter would also imply that human beings are sufficiently independent and have sufficient capacity to generate emotional self-control, as if there were no variables other than reason itself, when making decisions.
Where does it come from?
Rational choice theory is often associated with an economic paradigm (precisely because it helped generate the cost-benefit model). However, it is a theory through which many other elements that shape human behavior and societies can be understood.
In the context of the social sciences, rational choice theory represented an important theoretical and methodological transformation. It appeared mainly in the American intellectual context during the second half of the twentieth century i in reaction to welfare economy models.
In the field of political science, the TER criticized much of the current paradigms in the American academic context, which then shifted to the analysis of the disciplines of psychology and sociology. In the latter, TER questions the implications of self-interest, self-experience and intentionality, in human action and research. In other words, that is to say is interested in methodological individualism.
Basically, it is a “critique of the excess of mathematical narcissism in the face of the demands for realism that the social sciences must have”. Thus, rational choice theory has been an attempt to orient social disciplines towards rigorous practice and knowledge.
Are we making decisions “rationally”? Some criticisms of the TER
Some of the problems they have created relate to the sometimes intuitive use of the word “rational”. Vidal de la Rosa (2008) argues that for TER, human behaviors are simply instrumental and that cultural context is what determines the alternatives we can decide on, so behaviors would also be predetermined by culture.
Likewise, the polysemy of the word “rationality” makes it difficult to use it as a support for social theory, because it is difficult to homogenize and this makes it difficult for researchers to establish communication between them and then to put knowledge into practice. for the society.
Similarly, “rationality” can easily be confused with that of “intentionality”, and the TER generally does not deal with the difference and relationships between implicit and explicit choices. In recent years the latter has been studied in laboratory experiments. Some of this research analyzes the different cognitive and environmental variables that can affect a supposedly rational decision.
Finally, methodological individualism has been criticized, that is to say questioned if interest is the reason for behavior, And so wonders if this interest is valid as a means of making scientific knowledge.
- Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Rational choice theory. Accessed June 1, 2018. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/rational-choice-theory.
- Vidal de la Rosa, G. (2008). The theory of rational choice in the social sciences. Sociology (Mexico). 23 (67): 221-236.
- Staddon, JER (1995). Combinations of programming and choice: experience and theory. Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis, 21: 163-274.