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Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making$
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Peter Hammerstein and Jeffrey R. Stevens

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262018081

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262018081.001.0001

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Learning, Cognitive Limitations, and the Modeling of Social Behavior

Learning, Cognitive Limitations, and the Modeling of Social Behavior

(p.319) 19 Learning, Cognitive Limitations, and the Modeling of Social Behavior
Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making

Peter Hammerstein

Robert Boyd

The MIT Press

Learning experiments with rats and other animals have impressively documented that learning is “prepared” by evolution. For social animals like humans, learning mechanisms are specifically adapted to social environments. This preparedness for social life is the key to understanding human sociality. It explains, for example, why humans often do smart things without having a clue of why they do them. It also explains why humans maintain behavioral habits over generations when these habits are no longer useful. To be prepared does not mean to be perfect. The bubbles that irritate our financial markets demonstrate this as well as the fact that winners in competitive economic interactions often experience what is called the winner’s curse. In behavioral experiments, subjects do not learn to avoid the winner’s curse. This reflects the downside of otherwise adaptive mental mechanisms described by learning direction theory. The bounded rationality captured through this theory has also positive aspects. It allows cooperation to occur in games where conventional game-theoretic wisdom would not give it a chance. Similarly, emotions play a crucial role in human decision making. They sometimes lead to irrational behavior but, at the same time, enable us to maintain cooperative institutions essential for human sociality.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, learning, social behavior, modeling, bias, cultural learning, emotions, bounded rationality, human sociality

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