About this Research Topic
In the last twenty-five years, a new foundational perspective has been emerging in cognitive sciences under the heading embodied cognition. The core of embodied cognition can be expressed by the general hypothesis that cognitive processes are fundamentally rooted in the morphological traits and sensory-motor and affective systems of the human body. Thought is based primarily on modal embodied processes rather than amodal ones. These threads of research more or less explicitly acknowledge the centrality of embodied variables in economic psychology.
Embodied cognition can also inform the normative side of economic psychology, offering a new point of view on the notion of economic rationality. Different cognitive psychology trends have often inspired different notions of economic rationality. This was true for Simon’s bounded rationality, which was inspired by information processing psychology; and it is today true for Kahneman & Tversky’s view of human irrationality and for Gigerenzer’s notion of ecological rationality. The notion of ‘embodied bounded rationality’, emphasizing the embodied requirement for decision-making, can interact dialectically with these notions, complementing them.
This Research Topic aims to show that the adaptive and ecological dimension of bounded rationality can be better analyzed by assuming an embodied cognition perspective. Ecological rationality and the functioning of simple heuristics, in particular, would greatly benefit from inputs from neurobiological and embodied cognition studies. Until now, few reflections about these opportunities have been made in the framework of the ecological rationality approach. It remains mainly characterized by reference to information processing psychology and by a Marrian algorithmic level of analysis. In fact, something is changing among ecological rationality scholars, in particular with reference to a deeper analysis of the neurobiological dimension of heuristics decision making.
As one example, such studies may contribute to understanding strategy selection in decision making, where strategy selection means the selection of a given heuristic for a particular context. The selection is successful when the selected heuristic matches the structure of a given situation. That may happen by developing a mapping between context structure and appropriate heuristics to use. The mapping may be generated by a ‘strategy selection learning’ procedure, as strategies are selected according to predictions regarding their expected results in particular tasks and contexts. The reinforcement learning-based mechanism of strategy selection is consistent with accounts that tie reinforcement learning processes to recurrent cortico-basal circuitry. In particular, the basal ganglia, subcortical structures that are closely tied to bodily, motoric and affective processes, and habit and procedural learning, seem to lie behind most ecologically rational behavior. Basal ganglia may be involved in evaluating context and selecting actions based on either motor or cognitive past behavior. That is, this neural mechanism is part of what enables the strategy selection of adaptive heuristics based on the evaluation of past behavior.
In conclusion, as such references to strategy selection aim to show, embodied bounded rationality offers a new framework to study adaptive decision-making processes. The aim of this special issue is to explore the ways in which an embodied view of the economic agent can redirect our understanding of decision-making, both descriptively and normatively. As such, it aims to clarify the main features of an embodied cognition framework able to address foundational topics in economic psychology and behavioral economics.
Keywords: bounded rationality, embodied cognition, heuristics, mirror neurons, decision making
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