Would you rather be a rational or a reasonable decision-maker? These are life-changing choices we constantly make without realizing it, and because most of us don't see a clear difference between being a rational and reasonable decision-maker.

A fascinating psychology study published last week in Science Advances recounts how researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada wanted to understand what prompts people to use rationality -- or deviate from it -- in their decision-making. Reseachers studied a mass of data to see what people generally understand rationality to mean. Then, they conducted 12 experiments, some of which involved participants playing economic games like the Dictator Game online.

The study defined rationality as a human quality focusing on maximizing the chance of a person getting what he wants. Rationality is generally associated with the cold, hard logic of self-interest. On the other hand, reasonableness is a quality where a person strikes a balance between what he wants and social norms that might have a bearing on his decision. Being reasonable is associated with socially conscious traits like kindness or cooperativeness. Researchers also conducted experiments to understand people’s perceptions, expectations and behaviors.

Among their key findings is the study participants perceived reasonable people as less selfish than rational people. Participants also expected reasonable people would share more than rational people. The study said these expectations turned out to be correct: people that viewed themselves as being reasonable shared significantly more than those that viewed themselves as being rational.

The main question the study sought to answer was, "Is it better to act rationally or reasonably?" The answer seems to be, "It depends on your goals," which appears to be a nod towards consequentialism.

Being more reasonable might be a good thing in fields like education, politics, advocacy and marketing.

"To encourage people to make more cooperative choices, reduce the demand to be rational and enhance the request to be reasonable," according to the study.

Igor Grossmann, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, said being reasonable might make better sense than being rational when tackling explosive issues like climate change.

“When you’re arguing for a behavior that’s for the common good, you may be more successful with the reasonableness frame” said Grossman.

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