This article is part of the Research Topic Decision Making Across the Life Span

Perspective ARTICLE

Front. Neurosci., 14 February 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00019

Ecological rationality: a framework for understanding and aiding the aging decision maker

  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • 2 Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany

The notion of ecological rationality sees human rationality as the result of the adaptive fit between the human mind and the environment. Ecological rationality focuses the study of decision making on two key questions: First, what are the environmental regularities to which people’s decision strategies are matched, and how frequently do these regularities occur in natural environments? Second, how well can people adapt their use of specific strategies to particular environmental regularities? Research on aging suggests a number of changes in cognitive function, for instance, deficits in learning and memory that may impact decision-making skills. However, it has been shown that simple strategies can work well in many natural environments, which suggests that age-related deficits in strategy use may not necessarily translate into reduced decision quality. Consequently, we argue that predictions about the impact of aging on decision performance depend not only on how aging affects decision-relevant capacities but also on the decision environment in which decisions are made. In sum, we propose that the concept of the ecological rationality is crucial to understanding and aiding the aging decision maker.

Keywords: aging, decision making, ecological rationality, strategy selection, strategy execution

Citation: Mata R, Pachur T, von Helversen B, Hertwig R, Rieskamp J and Schooler L (2012) Ecological rationality: a framework for understanding and aiding the aging decision maker. Front. Neurosci. 6:19. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00019

Received: 15 October 2011; Accepted: 23 January 2012;
Published online: 14 February 2012.

Edited by:

Shu-Chen Li, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany

Reviewed by:

Ming Hsu, University of California Berkeley, USA
Marieke Karlijn Van Vugt, University of Groningen, Netherlands
Kirsten G. Volz, Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, Germany

Copyright: © 2012 Mata, Pachur, von Helversen, Hertwig, Rieskamp and Schooler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Rui Mata, Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 64A, 4055 Basel, Switzerland. e-mail: rui.mata@unibas.ch

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