Human behavior inside and outside bureaucracy: Lessons from psychology

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Asbjørn Sonne Nørgaard


Both Herbert A. Simon and Anthony Downs borrowed heavily from psychology to develop more accurate theories of Administrative Behavior outside and Inside Bureaucracy: Simon, to explicate the cognitive shortcomings in human rationality and its implications; and Downs, to argue that public officials, like other human beings, vary in their psychological needs and motivations and, therefore, behave differently in similar situations. I examine how recent psychological research adds important nuances to the psychology of human decision-making and behavior and points in somewhat other directions than those taken by Simon and Downs. Cue-taking, fast and intuitive thinking, and emotions play a larger role in human judgment and decision-making than what Simon suggested with his notion of bounded rationality. Personality trait theory provides a more general and solid underpinning for understanding individual differences in behavior, both inside and outside bureaucracy, than the ‘types of officials’ that Downs discussed. I present an agenda for a behavioral public administration that takes key issues in cognitive psychology and personality psychology into account.


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