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

Rui Mata, Thorsten Pachu, Bettina von Helversen, Ralph Hertwig, Jörg Rieskamp, Lael Schooler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 19
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Decision making
  • Ecological rationality
  • Strategy execution
  • Strategy selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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