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Rational choice theory is the view that people behave as
they do because they believe that performing their chosen
actions has more benefits than costs.
That is, people make rational choices based on their goals,
and those choices govern their behavior.
Some sociologists use rational choice theory to explain
social change. According to them, social change occurs
because individuals have made rational choices.
For example, suppose many people begin to conserve
more energy, lowering thermostats and driving less. An
explanation for this social change is that individual people
have decided that conserving energy will help them
achieve their goals (for example, save money and live
more healthfully) and cause little inconvenience.
Critics argue people do not always act on the basis of cost-
Humans are purposive and goal oriented.
Humans have sets of hierarchically ordered preferences, or
In choosing lines of behavior, humans make rational
calculations with respect to:
the utility of alternative lines of conduct with reference to
the preference hierarchy
the costs of each alternative in terms of utilities foregone
the best way to maximize utility.
Emergent social phenomena -- social structures, collective
decisions, and collective behavior -- are ultimately the
result of rational choices made by utility-maximizing
Emergent social phenomena that arise from rational
choices constitute a set of parameters for subsequent
rational choices of individuals in the sense that they
the distribution of resources among individuals
the distribution of opportunities for various lines of
the distribution and nature of norms and obligations in a
Attempts to explain all (conforming and deviant) social
phenomenon in terms of how self-interested individuals
make choices under the influence of their preferences. It
treats social exchange as similar to economic exchange
where all parties try to maximize their advantage or gain,
and to minimize their disadvantage or loss.
RCT's basic premises
1. human beings base their behavior on rational
2. they act with rationality when making choices,
3. their choices are aimed at optimization of their pleasure or
RCT, however, cannot explain the existence of certain
social phenomenon such as altruism, reciprocity, and trust,
and why individuals voluntarily join associations and groups
where collective and not individual benefits are pursued.