A Humboldt Prize–winning Israeli scholar of behavioral economics advances the concept of rational emotions in a book filled with fascinating studies and personal anecdotes.
Winter (Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of Rationality/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) turns to game theory, the study of interactive decisions, for explanations of how emotional behavior can bring about cooperation in situations in which rational behavior fails to do so. In the classic prisoner’s dilemma, for example, the author sees that an emotional need for reciprocity is the main motivation for cooperation. Treading the line between economics and psychology, Winter rejects the idea that the brain has separate mechanisms for emotional behavior and rational behavior. In his view, the two systems are intertwined and constantly in dialogue, with our emotions helping us to make rational decisions because our emotional behavior creates the possibility of influencing the behaviors of others. Besides his frequent references to the work of other economists, many of them Nobel Prize winners, and to the research experiments of psychologists, Winter often turns to his own life to make his points. A study of the difference in work habits of northern and southern Italians, an experiment revealing the cultural differences among Israeli, Chinese and Palestinian players in a game of giving and taking, and the risk-taking behaviors of bomber pilots in World War II are all woven into a narrative that includes a story about his aunts’ food negotiations at holiday meals and his cool, poker-playing uncle’s ability to win by reading the faces of the other players.
No special knowledge of game theory or of economic theory is required to follow Winter’s arguments, and his insights about human behavior range over a variety of areas: politics, religion, sex, marriage and art. A lively, accessible work.