rational choice theory

Also found in: Wikipedia.

rational choice theory

a relatively formal approach to sociological and social science theorizing (e.g. drawing upon the THEORY OF GAMES notion of STRATEGIC INTERACTION and ECONOMICS), in which it is maintained that social life is principally capable of explanation as the outcome of the ‘rational choices’ of individual actors.

‘When faced with several courses of action, people usually do what they believe is likely to have the best overall outcome. This deceptively simple sentence summarizes the theory of rational choice’ (Elster, 1989). It is a form of theorizing characterized by the use of technically rigorous models of social behaviour, which seek to derive robust conclusions from a relatively small number of initial theoretical assumptions about ‘rational behaviour’.

Rational choice theories have been in vogue over the last two decades, prompted by dissatisfaction with macroscopic and structural models in some circles but also by an increased centrality for the rhetoric of individual rational choice in many areas in economic and political life. Despite its often impressive formal architecture, and its undoubted value in illuminating some areas of social reality, two important limitations of rational choice theory can be noted (see Hollis, 1987):

  1. its relative lack of success in overcoming numerous technical difficulties (e.g. a regress in actors’ expectations concerning the actions of others), which limit its formal rigour and undermine the direct applicability of its models;
  2. an association with positivist and pragmatist epistemologies, which has limited its attention to analysis of action located in norm-guided, rule-following and rule-changing social behaviour. see also EXCHANGE THEORY.
References in periodicals archive ?
Specifically, "Plug-in Electric Vehicle Grid Integration" analyzes the current purchasing behavior via relevant and widely adopted models, such as diffusion of innovations, theory of planned behavior, and rational choice theory.
Social Learning Theory, low-self control theory, rational choice theory and digital media cost) are considered as a potential keys that that may influence an individual's intention to pirate digital material.
Arguing against easy assumptions that attribute terrorism to extremist ideology, and counter to mainstream academic explanations such as rational choice theory, Sageman has developed a theoretical model based on the concept of social identity.
They use rational choice theory to examine how power centralization in the EU may impact lobbying and economic growth, the risk of budget maximization and corruption problems, the case of trade in greenhouse gases to measure lobbying and the risk of cheating in the trading system, the case of green industries and their lobbying strength, countervailing lobbying among brown and green power plants and the potential waste of resources, alignment of incentives and potential coalitions among lobbying groups, and whether lobbying should be regulated and possible policy choices based on the US experience.
Rational choice theory consists of two main ideas: people are subjectively self-interested and people adjust their behavior according to a rational cost-benefit analysis.
Newer iterations of Rational Choice Theory (RCT) place the motivation of the individual as central to decision making, and state that an understanding of the offender's value hierarchy is necessary to understand their decision making.
Elsewhere, one can find initial respect for the many inroads made by rational choice theory in the social sciences in recent decades.
Through economics and rational choice theory models, sociologist Rodney Stark and political scientist Anthony Gill developed the "religious markets" theory.
Consider its criticism of rational choice theory for failing to account for organizational learning, a process by which firms improve their internal decisionmaking: (158)
Subsequent chapters outline the arguments of several theoretical traditions that have taken issue with Parson's assumptions: rational choice theory, symbolic interaction, and conflict theory.
Rational choice theory postulates that humans are goal-oriented (money being a particularly powerful goal) and that their behavior can be manipulated by changing situations so that acts that violate the law will not have satisfying outcomes.
It also means a challenge to rational choice theory that undermines the role of ideas in individual's choices and behaviors.