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Department of Psychology pres.

CCN Forum: Boundedly Rational Ethical Choice

Stella Hao, CCN Graduate Student

Hao Hao
Bounded rationality is the study of how choice and behavior is shaped by computational bounds and the structure of the task environment, including time constraint or limits on available information (Simon, 1955). In this talk I present new work on boundedly rational ethical decisions in which we show empirically that patterns of so-called contextual preference reversals that arise in economic and other domains also arise in problems involving choice among disaster rescue plans with different probabilistic outcomes for saving lives. These reversals are widely understood to challenge characterizations of human decision making grounded in rational choice theory, but recent theoretical work (Howes et al., 2016) demonstrates how they arise from an agent making expected utility-maximizing choices in the face of perceptual and cognitive bounds. We show that this general theory extends naturally to our new empirical paradigm, demonstrating the possibility of rigorous accounts of bounded rationality in ethical domains. I will also preview new empirical work that uses process-tracing methods to investigate decision strategies in a domain based on a complex real-world legal decision problem: setting bail.

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