Does Game Theory Assume Rational?


Diego Sanchez

Game Theory is a fascinating subject that has been studied for many years. It is a mathematical framework that helps us to understand how people make decisions in strategic situations.

Game Theory is widely used in economics, political science, and psychology to analyze behavior and decision-making. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether Game Theory assumes rationality. In this article, we will explore this topic and try to understand the different perspectives.

What is Game Theory?

Game Theory is the study of mathematical models of strategic interactions between individuals or groups. It involves analyzing the choices made by players who are aware that their actions affect each other’s outcomes. The goal of Game Theory is to identify the optimal strategies for each player, given their opponents’ strategies.

Does Game Theory Assume Rationality?

One of the key assumptions of Game Theory is that players are rational. In other words, they make decisions based on logical reasoning and have complete information about the game they are playing. This assumption allows us to model the behavior of players and predict their actions.

However, there are several criticisms of this assumption. Critics argue that people do not always act rationally and may make decisions based on emotions or biases. For example, someone might choose to donate to a charity even if it doesn’t benefit them directly because it makes them feel good.

Behavioral Game Theory

To address these criticisms, a new field called Behavioral Game Theory has emerged in recent years. Behavioral Game Theory takes into account the fact that people may not always act rationally and incorporates insights from psychology and neuroscience into its models.

For example, one study found that people are more likely to cooperate in a Prisoner’s Dilemma game if they feel a sense of fairness or trust towards their opponent. This suggests that emotions play an important role in decision-making and cannot be ignored.

Critiques of Behavioral Game Theory

Despite its advantages, Behavioral Game Theory has also faced criticism. Some argue that it is too focused on individual behavior and ignores the role of institutions and social norms in decision-making. For example, a person might choose to cooperate in a game because they believe it is the socially acceptable thing to do, rather than because of their personal preferences.


In conclusion, the question of whether Game Theory assumes rationality is a complex one. While the assumption of rationality allows us to model decision-making and predict outcomes, it is not always accurate in real-world situations.

Behavioral Game Theory offers a more nuanced approach that takes into account the fact that people may not always act rationally. However, this approach also has its limitations and may not fully capture the complexity of human behavior. Ultimately, both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to researchers to decide which one is best suited for their particular research question.