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Rationality

Human Nature is Not Always Rational- How Behavioral Science can Aid Development

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

I am not sure if I was more surprised, glad, or excited to see the recent 2015 World Development Report published by the World Bank Group. Knowing well this institution, I admit I did not expect to see the day when it would acknowledge that human behavior is not necessarily guided by rational considerations and that behavior change is not a linear process and needs to reflect the complexity of factors affecting such process. The possibility that rational thought is not at the basis of every human action is something quite revolutionary, at least within the mainstream boundaries of economic discourse.

The WDR entitled “Mind, Society and Behavior” seems to suggest that economists might actually have something to learn from behavioural scientists! However, such concepts have been floating around for a quite some time. A handful of social scientists, development scholars, and practitioners have been exploring, advocating, and applying to a different degree principles, which are now illustrated in the WDR and applying approaches that promote human agency and facilitate social change.

“I contain multitudes": Is Logical Consistency an Illusory Ideal?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
-Walt Whitman
 

The possibility of rational debate and discussion in human affairs remains a stubborn and persistent ideal. This is, I suspect, mainly because we have a lot riding on it. Without the possibility of rational debate and discussion, it would be close to impossible to work in groups, and for the groups to be productive, to get stuff done. Deliberative processes would also be unworkable; and would in fact not exist.  Parliaments and similar legislative assemblies – allegedly the great deliberative forums of liberal constitutional democracy – would not function without some attempt to promote rational debate and discussion. Democracy itself celebrates the ideal. The whole idea of  a public sphere rests on the notion that citizens can meet in the virtual public square-- constituted today by the mass media system in each country– and exchange views on the great public issues of the day, from which process-informed public opinion might emerge, and so on.

Yet, the ideal of rational debate and discussion requires (a) certain personal disciplines, and these disciplines are not easy to practice; and (b) personality traits that are not evenly distributed within any population.