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Rational Choice Theory

Rational Choice Theory

Rational choice theory is a part of economics that seeks to understand and frame social and economic behavior. Rational choice theory uses a specific and narrow definition of "rational" to mean that the individual acts as if he or she is balancing cost against benefits in order to arrive at a situation that maximizes their advantage.

Under rational choice theory, economists hold that patterns of behavior in society are a reflection of individuals attempting to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. As people make these decisions, patterns of behavior emerge in society. Theoretically, people will choose the object that provides the greatest reward at the lowest cost. Since individuals cannot have everything that they want, they will make choices, and will calculate which course of action will provide the greatest satisfaction.

Critics of rational choice theory have maintained that it has several problems. One criticism is that it relies too heavily on the individual, and fails to take into account larger social structures. Second, rational choice theory cannot explain collective action. If an individual bases decisions on maximum personal gain, critics argue that no one would ever chose to pursue a course of action that would benefit others, such as philanthropic measures. Third, rational choice theory cannot explain why some people act selflessly and behave in ways that override self-interest.

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