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Policymakers approach human behavior largely through the perspective of the “rational agent” model, which relies on normative, a priori analyses of the making of rational decisions. This perspective is promoted in the social sciences and in professional schools, and has come to dominate much of the formulation and conduct of policy. An alternative view, developed mostly through empirical behavioral research, provides a substantially different perspective on individual behavior and its policy implications. Behavior, according to the empirical perspective, is the outcome of perceptions, impulses, and other processes that characterize the impressive machinery that we carry behind the eyes and between the ears. These proclivities, research has shown, intrude upon and shape behavior, often quite independently of deliberative intent, and in contrast with normative ideals that people endorse upon reflection. The results are systematic behaviors that are unforeseen and misunderstood by classical policy thinking. A more nuanced behavioral perspective, such research suggests, can yield deeper understanding and improved regulatory insight.


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