FEATURE7 January 2014

Are we really irrational, or just adaptively rational?

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Elina Halonen and Leigh Caldwell of The Irrational Agency interview psychologist and author Vlad Griskevicius.

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Thanks to all the books, conference talks and articles on behavioural economics in the past couple of years, we’ve all learned just how irrational we humans are. But a new book called The Rational Animal by Douglas Kenrick and Vlad Griskevicius sets out a framework to understand how biases are not necessarily irrational when examined from an evolutionary perspective.

As the book says: “Bias is often seen as a dirty little word. We are taught that we should avoid bias and instead strive to be accurate, rational, and smart. Yet the reality is that our minds evolved to be biased – to predictably make specific types of errors and decisions that appear irrational.”

This approach, sometimes known as “adaptive rationality”, shows why our apparently biased behaviour is actually rational in the sense that it helped us to adapt to our environment either today, or at some point in the past. We put some questions to Vlad Griskevicius to find ...