The Rational Actor Model of Decision Making

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  • 0:03 The Rational Actor Model
  • 1:10 Four Key Concepts
  • 3:09 Model Drawbacks
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Olga Bugajenko

Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.

Would you like to understand how world leaders and country leaders made their historical decisions? The rational actor model and its four key concepts will help you to successfully analyze past decisions.

The Rational Actor Model

When paging through the morning newspaper, do you ever wonder why a country's leader makes one decision and not another? Do you ever catch yourself asking, What were they thinking? Historians often use a special tool when analyzing past political decisions, attempting to replicate the rationale behind particular choices.

This tool is known as the rational actor model. The main assumption of it is reflected in its name: the primary decision-maker is believed to be a rational person, making an optimal choice based on calculated expected benefits and guided by consistent personal values. The knowledge about their preferences is then used to explain the choices they've made. Behavior where the choices made are consistent with the original goals is referred to as instrumental rationality.

While the main concepts of the model can be applied successfully when making a new decision, it's most often used when analyzing historical decisions, particularly in the field of foreign policy. The rational actor model of decision-making is also sometimes referred to as a rational choice model.

Four Key Concepts

At the heart of the model lie four key concepts that are applied step-by-step to explain a decision. Let's take a closer look at each of these, using the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We'll analyze it from the perspective of the US president at the time, John F. Kennedy, who had to respond to the Soviet Union placing short-range nuclear missiles on Cuba.

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