Sense or non-sense? A critical discussion of a recent evolutionary-cognitive approach to ”folk-economic beliefs”

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Laypeople hold beliefs about economics and policy issues—so-called folk-economic beliefs (FEBs)—that are often wrong or misleading according to professional economists. Here, I critically discuss a recent evolutionary–cognitive approach to understanding folk-economic beliefs. According to this approach (Boyer & Petersen 2018a), some economic beliefs are more prevalent than others, because such beliefs (i.e., folk-economic beliefs) resonate with evolved features of the human mind. I refer to this as the “FEB hypothesis”. A central challenge to the FEB hypothesis, with its heavy reliance on universal cognitive features, is to explain individual and cultural differences in economic beliefs and behavior. This challenge is the starting point for the discussion. Overall, the conclusion of this paper is that the FEB hypothesis relies on unnecessarily strong and controversial theoretical assumptions (e.g., “massive modularity” and the “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”), and that it overlooks important findings from adjacent fields, but that the FEB hypothesis, following some modifications inspired by Dual Inheritance Theory, can be integrated with robust findings from the rest of the evolutionary, cognitive, and anthropological sciences, as well as standard political psychology. Based on this discussion, the paper ends with brief reflections on how to correct inaccurate folk-economic beliefs.
Original languageEnglish
Journal Evolution, Mind and Behaviour
Volume17
Issue1
Pages (from-to)29-47
ISSN2560-0982
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

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