rationale là gì

Bounded rationality is a human decision-making process in which we attempt đồ sộ satisfice, rather than thở optimize. In other words, we seek a decision that will be good enough, rather than thở the best possible decision.

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Bounded Rationality Illustration

Where this bias occurs

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Imagine you are at the grocery store buying eggs. You look at the various brands and buy a carton of eggs labeled “cage-free.” This decision satisfies your desire đồ sộ be ethical by choosing eggs from chickens not raised in cages.

However, when we make quick choices based on labels lượt thích “cage-free,” we often fail đồ sộ stop and think about what those terms actually mean. Our decision is based on a false sense of rationality because we tự not have all the information available. Maybe we don’t have the time đồ sộ look up that “cage-free” can mean both “free-run” and “free-range,” but only “free-range” chickens have a chance đồ sộ go outside.1 Bounded rationality encourages us đồ sộ make decisions that satisfy a particular criterion, such as being ethical, without making the most optimal choice within that criterion.

Debias Your Organization

Most of us work & live in environments that aren’t optimized for solid decision-making. We work with organizations of all kinds đồ sộ identify sources of cognitive bias & develop tailored solutions.

Learn about our work

Individual effects

According đồ sộ bounded rationality, we are not inclined đồ sộ find all the necessary information đồ sộ make a rational decision due đồ sộ cognitive and temporal limitations. This restriction causes us đồ sộ make choices that are merely satisfactory rather than thở continuing đồ sộ tìm kiếm for the best option.

Our choices are still logical considering the information realistically available đồ sộ us, but not in terms of all the possible information out there. While it is difficult đồ sộ behave according đồ sộ perfect economic rationality, which maximizes benefits while diminishing costs, making decisions based on bounded rationality can cause us đồ sộ be inconsistent with our objectives.

Systemic effects

The corporate world contains a complex trang web of decision-making. While organizations strive đồ sộ make choices that reflect their economic values, individuals making choices tự not function perfectly rationally. Instead, unconscious prejudices and motives often sway humans, which makes meeting financial goals more difficult.  

On top of that, employees must make snap judgments within stressful environments that will have a lasting impact on the rest of the organization. With time, money, and resource constraints, decision-making may only be satisfactory rather than thở most effective for meeting the company’s objectives.

Decision-making becomes all the more complex when the optimal choice for an employee does not align with the optimal choice for the rest of the company. In this case, the rationality of the employee is bound by their obligation đồ sộ put the organization's needs before their own. While pushing back against self-serving inclinations, they may only be able đồ sộ make a sufficient choice for the company rather than thở having the capacity đồ sộ make the best choice possible. 

In short, bounded rationality is sometimes a necessary imperfection when decision-making exists as part of a complex network rather than thở an individual entity.

How it affects product

As with “cage-free” eggs, tech companies can market digital products as “environmentally friendly” đồ sộ convince consumers đồ sộ make morally responsible choices. For example, music listeners may use online streaming services such as Spotify because they seem more sustainable than thở material options lượt thích vinyl or CD players. The perceived environmental benefit, combined with the convenience of listening đồ sộ music on your phone, may convince listeners đồ sộ tải về Spotify thinking they have the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, this assumption could not be more wrong. All data centers combined produce two percent of the world’s carbon footprint—almost equivalent đồ sộ that of the airline industry.11 However, the ease of streaming platforms may discourage listeners from further looking into how these services rely on data centers đồ sộ provide instantaneous listening.

Bounded rationality and AI

Bounded rationality may prevent us from using AI software most effectively. Let’s say after struggling đồ sộ write an tin nhắn đồ sộ your quấn đồ sộ request time off for vacation, you decide đồ sộ turn đồ sộ ChatGPT for help. You quickly type your request in, and an automated response appears before you within seconds. Although the tin nhắn is quite generic, you convince yourself it’s “good enough” and send it off. 

Being restricted in time and energy encourages you đồ sộ settle for a vague response rather than thở going back and prompting ChatGPT with more details. For example, you could stress that your trip will be a mental recharge that will increase your future productivity or that the location you are visiting will offer enriching education you can incorporate into your work. Rather than thở helping the algorithm đồ sộ produce the optimal response, you settle for the first result that may not guarantee you get your time off.

To overcome bounded rationality, we can take a bit more time đồ sộ incorporate specific details into our requests for AI tools đồ sộ help them generate the best results possible.

Why it happens

We make hundreds of decisions every day. Since we have đồ sộ sift through ví many options quickly, it is impossible đồ sộ research and map out the potential effects of each. Think about how much information would have đồ sộ be stored in our brains at any given moment for us đồ sộ be able đồ sộ make perfectly rational decisions!

Due đồ sộ limited brain capacity, time, and available information, we have đồ sộ make decisions using mental shortcuts known in cognitive science as heuristics. While heuristics make it easier for us đồ sộ make snap judgments, they limit our ability đồ sộ exercise logic, sometimes leading us toward mediocre choices.

Why it is important

Although bounded rationality helps us make satisfactory choices, that does not mean that those choices are optimal. Economists refer đồ sộ us as “satisficers” instead of “homo economicus,” meaning “perfect rational human.”2 We make “good enough” decisions instead of the best ones, leading us đồ sộ choose inconsistently.

We must be aware of our poor decision-making because businesses try đồ sộ benefit from them using marketing tactics. Companies often label their products with enticing qualifiers with little-to-no meaning, such as the term “cage-free” on a carton of eggs. Other labels include “organic,” “sugar-free,” or “whole-wheat.” These qualifiers are vague and often tự not mean what we assume they tự. We may be satisfied by buying what we believe are ethical or healthy options when in reality, we are not achieving the most optimal decision đồ sộ meet our objectives.

In the documentary, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, director Morgan Spurlock explores the requirements for restaurants đồ sộ label foods with certain qualifiers that may mislead customers.3 For instance, fast-food restaurants are allowed đồ sộ say that their meat is made from “free-range” chicken if the chickens have the option of going outside for part of the day.4 That does not actually mean that they go outside. As Spurlock exposes in the film, farmers can get away with constructing a fenced space that only extends a few feet outdoors which they open up for a few minutes each day đồ sộ convince consumers that they are being ethical.

If we want đồ sộ avoid being taken advantage of by strategic marketing, we must remain aware that they are playing into our bounded rationality. Businesses know that we lack time đồ sộ inform ourselves about the fine print of each qualifier or look at the nutritional labels of every product we buy. However, we can fight back by thinking twice before we purchase an item only because of its labeling.

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How đồ sộ avoid it

Unfortunately, being aware of bounded rationality does not help us đồ sộ overcome it; understanding the limits đồ sộ our thinking capacity and available information does not make those restrictions disappear. It is also useless đồ sộ try đồ sộ acquire all the details about different options when deciding. This process would take too long, and even if we had access đồ sộ all the necessary information, it would be too much for us đồ sộ process. 

Since we will always be individually restricted by bounded rationality, working in groups or teams can help us overcome some limitations. People come đồ sộ the table with diverse capabilities and expertise, helping đồ sộ fill in any knowledge gaps. Working on a task together can also reduce the time and effort each of us has đồ sộ exert on it, meaning that we may have more resources đồ sộ dedicate đồ sộ in-depth research and deciding upon the best option possible.

Companies and professionals can also use a size of choice architecture called nudges, a thought-out design of environments under which people make better decisions. Nudges could help us overcome bounded rationality and make optimal rather than thở satisfactory choices. For example, grocery stores can place the healthiest items at eye level đồ sộ make us more likely đồ sộ choose that option rather than thở leaving us dependent on misleading labels.

How it all started

Economist Herbert A. Simon, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral science, first proposed the idea of bounded rationality in 1955 đồ sộ counter the commonly held belief that being economical was equivalent đồ sộ being rational.6 Under existing economic theories, being “rational” meant that when an individual chooses between alternative courses of action, they always pick the optimal option. This theory was called “rationality as optimization,” and Simon’s work was very influential in displacing such models.

Simon did not believe existing economic understandings of rationality adequately represented the kind of decisions people actually made. He proposed bounded rationality đồ sộ consider the “access of information, and the computational capacities that are actually possessed by organisms, including man, and the kinds of environments in which such organisms exist."6 In other words, he wanted his theory đồ sộ consider various limitations, including available information, varying mental capacities, and time. 

Simon famously used a scissor metaphor đồ sộ describe why the traditional economy theory was insufficient for looking at decision-making.6 One blade represented a human’s mental capacity, and the other blade represented the environment under which we make decisions. German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, who supported Simon’s model, explained its significance as the following:7 If we look at either blade of a pair of scissors alone, we cannot understand how it cuts. It is necessary đồ sộ look at both blades—both our mental capacity and our environmental factors—to fully understand how the scissors cut. In other words, we must address personal and situational factors đồ sộ grasp what causes rationality đồ sộ be bound while decision-making fully.

Example 1 – Supply chain management

In the business world, decision-making occurs in complex systems with competing influences, such as when organizational objectives tự not match individual goals.

In financial terms, what is rational for a business is what will make them the most money. However, consumers are starting đồ sộ demand companies become more ethical in their practices, especially concerning environmental issues. These pressures lead đồ sộ conflicting priorities for decision-makers who want đồ sộ maintain their reputation with consumers while prioritizing financial gain.

Along with his team, Jens Roehrich, a researcher interested in supply-chain management, examined how 12 companies handled these conflicting interests. Roehrich wanted đồ sộ see if bounded rationality affects companies’ use of sustainable supply chains, which are more environmentally friendly but often cost more.8 

The researchers found that a primary concern of managers was balancing the trade-off between cost and reputation, as well as what capabilities and resources were available. These trade-offs demonstrate that organizations rarely abide by perfect rationality, and instead, their decision-making is bound by different influences and capacities. 

Instead of choosing the cheapest supply chain, which would be economically optimal, decision-makers often settled on a compromise between costs and reputation by picking a supply chain that was a higher cost but more sustainable. This instance demonstrates that sometimes bounded rationality is actually more ethical than thở perfect rationality because it encourages us đồ sộ “settle” for decisions that benefit people or cause outside ourselves.

Example 2 – Short-term temptations

Perfect economic rationality predicts that we make decisions that will give us the best financial outcome—which, of course, is typically not the case. 

Imagine you won a contest and can pick between two options for your reward. Either you can receive $100 today, or you can wait one month and receive $110. The perfect rational individual would wait one month đồ sộ receive the greater sum, but most people are likely đồ sộ be satisfied with receiving $100 immediately. 

Several studies have demonstrated bounded rationality in these kinds of scenarios. For example, when buying large appliances, customers are more likely đồ sộ buy models with a low initial price with high energy rates. These appliances cost us more long-term than thở if customers chose models with a higher initial price but lower energy rates.9 Bounded rationality means that we are limited by our inability đồ sộ quickly calculate how much electricity will cost over the years, causing us đồ sộ make a satisfactory decision at the time but not optimal overall. 

In another study, when participants were asked whether they would prefer a không tính phí meal at a fancy French restaurant or a local Greek restaurant,10 most chose the French restaurant. However, when asked whether they would prefer the French meal in two months or the Greek meal in one month, 57% of participants who had initially chosen French said they would rather have the Greek meal sooner.

These short-term gratification studies show that humans tự not act according đồ sộ perfect economic rationality. Instead, other factors influence our decisions: convenience, desire for immediate gratification, limited available information, or other cognitive biases. 


What it is

Bounded rationality describes the way that humans make decisions that depart from perfect economic rationality since we are limited by our mental capacity, the information available đồ sộ us, and time. Instead of striving đồ sộ make the “best” choices, we often settle on making merely satisfactory choices. 

Why it happens

To act according đồ sộ perfect rationality would require us not đồ sộ be influenced by any cognitive biases, đồ sộ be able đồ sộ access all possible information about potential alternatives, and đồ sộ have enough time đồ sộ calculate the pros and cons of each. 

Since it is next đồ sộ impossible đồ sộ make decisions that satisfy all of these factors, we take shortcuts and make decisions that satisfy us, even if they are not the most optimal. We make choices within our temporal and cognitive limitations đồ sộ the best of our understanding and ability. We may still be rational, just not perfectly ví. 

Example 1 - Supply chain management

According đồ sộ a model based on perfect economic rationality, company decision-makers would make choices for their supply chain that would yield the greatest profit. However, such a model would not take into trương mục other factors lượt thích reputation or sustainability. Many companies make decisions for their supply chain where cost is one of many factors influencing the decision-making process. Bounded rationality considers some of the trade-offs that managers have đồ sộ make, meaning their decisions cannot always align with perfect economic rationality. 

 Example 2 - Short-term temptations

Bounded rationality can encourage us đồ sộ make decisions that satisfy us in the short term, either because we are tempted by immediate gratification or because we cannot calculate long-term outcomes. This leads đồ sộ decisions that could be more optimal over time, such as buying appliances that have a lower initial price but cost us more over time because of energy costs.

How đồ sộ avoid it

It is difficult đồ sộ avoid bounded rationality because the limitations that cause us đồ sộ veer from perfect economic rationality are not ones we can change. The effort required đồ sộ make the best choice is often not worth the difference in benefit gained between a satisfactory and an optimal choice.

However, it can be useful đồ sộ get multiple opinions on the best decision. Working as a team helps us overcome bounded rationality by lessening limitations. We gain multiple perspectives that lessen cognitive biases and more time đồ sộ learn about the possible alternatives đồ sộ arrive at the most optimal outcome.

Related TDL articles

Does Emotion Affect Our Ability To Make Rational Decisions?

In this article, TDL’s Tiantian Li discusses a number of studies that examine what parts of our brains are activated by different decision motivators. Li explores how bounded rationality is represented through brain function, and whether damage đồ sộ some parts of the brain could actually lead đồ sộ more rational decision-making.

Algorithms for Simpler Decision-Making: Fighting Irrationality with Nonrationality

In this article, Jason Burton, who has a background in cognition and computation, discusses the drawbacks of algorithms that are programmed as perfectly rational agents. Burton suggests that such algorithms, which are supposed đồ sộ aid us in making decisions, are not actually useful because they tự not take into trương mục the “big world of uncertainty” that we live in. Instead, he argues for algorithms that stay true đồ sộ the bounded rationality under which humans make decisions.

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