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Cognitive and Social Foundations of Rationality

Rationality focuses on perhaps the key fault-line in the social and cognitive sciences. Many theorists, in philosophy, economics, artificial intelligence and cognitive science explain mind, behaviour, and their consequences for social phenomena, by rational explanation. Others, in judgment and decision making, social psychology, behavioural economics and the neurosciences, argue that people systematically violate rational principles, typically focusing on the influence of mechanistic, not rational, constraints on thought. This project aims to establish how, and to what extent, these viewpoints interact and how far they can be reconciled, by mathematical, computational, and experimental methods. This research programme will have fundamental implications both for scientific and normative questions. It will clarify the interplay of rational and mechanistic explanation of inference, learning, decision making, communication, and social phenomena; and will explore the cognitive underpinnings of our conflicting normative intuitions, helping to inform normative questions in ethics and political philosophy.


  • Psychological and economic experiments
  • Philosophical exploration

Research Questions

  • How can we reconcile the rational model of cognition with the mechanistic constraints of thought?
  • How are our conflicting normative intuitions underpinned cognitively?


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Nick Chater Jenifer Misyak
Principle Investigator Research Fellow

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Hana Sysalova Tim Vandendriessche Jess Whittlestone Marsha Kirichek
PhD Student PhD Student PhD Student PhD Student

This project is funded by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant.