Rationality and Utility: Economics and Evolutionary Psychology

Economics has always prided itself on having a unifying theoretical framework based on rational choice theory. However, data from controlled experiments, which often provide theory the best chance to work, refute many of the rationality assumptions that economists make. The evidence against rational choice, as traditionally defined, has forced economists to rethink their traditional models. However, despite the investment of many brilliant minds in the pursuit of better behavioral models of choice, behavioral economics has so far made little progress in providing an alternative paradigm that would be both parsimonious and accurate. In this chapter, we review the evidence against rational choice and the ways in which behavioral economists have responded. In addition, we put forward the idea that evolutionary psychology can give economics back its overriding paradigm. Evolutionary psychology can place structure on the utility function and provide content to rationality. By doing so, it can explain many of the behavioral anomalies that behavioral economists and psychologists have documented. If economists are willing to use the evolutionary psychology paradigm, then they can regain theoretical consistency of their discipline and have models that are better descriptors and predictors of behavior.