Towards a Unifed Behavioral Science
October 16, 2006
The various behavioral disciplines model human behavior in distinct and
incompatible ways. Yet, recent theoretical and empirical developments have
created the conditions for rendering coherent the areas of overlap of the var-
ious behavioral disciplines, as outlined in this paper. The analytical tools
deployed in this task incorporate core principles from several behavioral dis-
ciplines. The proposed framework recognizes evolutionary theory, covering
both genetic and cultural evolution, as the integrating principle of behavioral
science. Moreover, if decision theory and game theory are broadened to en-
compass non-self-regarding preferences, they become capable of contributing
to the modeling of all aspects of decision making, including those normally
considered “psychological,” “sociological” or “anthropological.” The mind
as a decision-making organ then becomes the organizing principle of psychol-
The behavioral sciences include economics, biology, anthropology, sociology, psy-
chology, and political science, as well as their subdisciplines, including neuro-
science, archaeology and paleontology, and to a lesser extent, such related dis-
ciplines as history, legal studies, and philosophy.
These disciplines have many
distinct concerns, but each includes a model of individual human behavior. These
models are not only different, which is to be expected given their distinct explanatory
I would like to thank George Ainslie, Samuel Bowles, Rob Boyd, Dov Cohen, Ernst Fehr,
BarbaraFinlay,ThomasGetty, DennisKrebs, JoeHenrich, DanielKahneman, LaurentKeller, Joachim
Krueger, Larry Samuelson, Marc Hauser, the referees and many commetators on a previous version
of this paper that appears in
Behavioral and Brain Sciences
(2006), and the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation for ±nancial support.
Biology straddles the natural and behavioral sciences. We include biological models of animal
(including human) behavior, as well as the physiological bases of behavior, in the behavioral sciences.