Rationality and reasonableness viewed as distinct principles of judgment

January 12, 2020

Listen to this article

Rationality and reasonableness viewed as distinct principles of judgment

When it comes to making sound judgments, most people think that being rational is self-serving and being reasonable is fair and balanced, according to some interesting new research.

The study is the first systematic attempt to explore what people consider to be sound judgment and whether they understand rationality and reasonableness along the lines advocated by experts in economics, law, and other social scientists.

What the researchers say: “Our results show that laypeople grasp economists’ view of rationality, yet they favor socially pragmatic reasonableness as a separate standard of judgment,” said the lead author on the study.

To understand how the general public views rationality and reasonableness, the researchers examined impressions of rational and reasonable persons and actions.

“The concept of rationality that we found lay people have corresponds to economists’ definition, which emphasizes abstract logic and pursuit of self-interest,” they said. “We also found people tend to uphold a distinct standard of reasonableness that corresponds to philosophical traditions encouraging context-specific balance of self-interest with fairness.”

The researchers analyzed the use of the terms “rational” and “reasonable” in web-based news, US Supreme Court Opinions, scripts of popular soap operas, and Google books covering languages spoken in 1/6 of the world today. They quantified common characteristics attributed to rational and reasonable persons.

Researchers also surveyed laypeople’s common stereotypes of rational and reasonable agents and performed 13 experiments contrasting cooperative and self-serving behavior in economic games. Experiments involved participants in North America as well as urban and rural Pakistan.

“Rationality and reasonableness lead people to different conclusions about what constitutes sound judgment in dilemmas that pit self-interest against fairness,” said a co-author of the study. “People view rationality as absolute and preference-maximizing, whereas they view reasonableness as paying attention to particulars and fairness.”

Researchers also found that people use rational and reasonable standards of judgment strategically, favoring a rational person to represent their side in economic and social disputes, but choosing a reasonable person to represent the other side.

“These findings cast prior demonstrations of people’s irrationality in a new light,” said the authors. “People may choose to be irrational when it violates their preferred standard of reasonable, socially-conscious behavior.”

So, what? Sometimes great little studies confirm what to scientists has been obvious for a long time. In this case, the fact that we do not make judgments on the basis of fact or reason—though we prefer to use fact and reason to try to persuade others. Our decisions and our “preferences” are driven by emotion and our drive to create or cement supportive relationships. Simple, really

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

Join the discussion

More from this issue of TR

January 12, 2020
No items found.

Join our tribe

Subscribe to Dr. Bob Murray’s Today’s Research, a free weekly roundup of the latest research in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Explore leadership, strategy, culture, business and social trends, and executive health.

Thank you for subscribing.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Check your details and try again.