Efficiently irrational: deciphering the riddle of human choice

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


For the past half-century, cognitive and social scientists have struggled with the irrationalities of human choice behavior; people consistently make choices that are logically inconsistent. Is human choice behavior evolutionarily adaptive or is it an inefficient patchwork of competing mechanisms? In this review, I present an interdisciplinary synthesis arguing for a novel interpretation: choice is efficiently irrational. Connecting findings across disciplines suggests that observed choice behavior reflects a precise optimization of the trade-off between the costs of increasing the precision of the choice mechanism and the declining benefits that come as precision increases. Under these constraints, a rationally imprecise strategy emerges that works toward optimal efficiency rather than toward optimal rationality. This approach rationalizes many of the puzzling inconsistencies of human choice behavior, explaining why these inconsistencies arise as an optimizing solution in biological choosers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-687
Number of pages19
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • decision-making
  • divisive normalization
  • efficient coding
  • subjective value
  • utility
  • Decision Making
  • Choice Behavior
  • Humans
  • Cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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