Efficient Cognition

Efficient Cognition

The Evolution of Representational Decision Making

By Armin W. Schulz

An argument that representational decision making is more cognitively efficient, allowing an organism to adjust more easily to changes in the environment.





An argument that representational decision making is more cognitively efficient, allowing an organism to adjust more easily to changes in the environment.

Many organisms (including humans) make decisions by relying on mental representations. Not simply a reaction triggered by perception, representational decision making employs high-level, non-perceptual mental states with content to manage interactions with the environment. A person making a decision based on mental representations, for example, takes a step back from her perceptions at the time to assess the nature of the world she lives in. But why would organisms rely on representational decision making, and what evolutionary benefits does this reliance provide to the decision maker? In Efficient Cognition, Armin Schulz argues that representational decision making can be more cognitively efficient than non-representational decision making. Specifically, he shows that a key driver in the evolution of representational decision making is that mental representations can enable an organism to save cognitive resources and adjust more efficiently to changed environments.

After laying out the foundations of his argument—clarifying the central questions, the characterization of representational decision making, and the relevance of an evidential form of evolutionary psychology—Schulz presents his account of the evolution of representational decision making and critically considers some of the existing accounts of the subject. He then applies his account to three open questions concerning the nature of representational decision making: the extendedness of decision making, and when we should expect cognition to extend into the environment; the specialization of decision making and the use of simple heuristics; and the psychological sources of altruistic behaviors.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262037600 280 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 9 b&w illus.


  • [A] highly original, and empirically well-informed, account of the evolutionary drivers of representational decision making.

    Biology & Philosophy

  • [Schulz's] book sets an admirable standard.

    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


  • Armin Schulz's Efficient Cognition is a groundbreaking study of the nature and evolution of decision making. This beautifully written book demonstrates the importance of evolutionary thinking to theorize about the evolution of cognition.

    Edouard Machery

    Distinguished Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Department of History and Philosophy of Science; author of Doing without Concepts and Philosophy within Its Proper Bounds

  • In this cogent book, Schulz marshals evidence from across disciples to explain the evolution of representational decision making. This book is a must-read for scholars in philosophy, psychology, evolutionary biology, or the cognitive sciences who are interested in how decision making evolved.

    Sarah F. Brosnan

    Professor of Psychology, Philosophy & Neuroscience, Georgia State University

  • To understand the human mind, you must understand representations. But it seems that the centrality of representations, once taken for granted, has been under attack for years now. This book is an essential corrective—addressing the what, the how, and especially the why for representations in decision making.

    Ron Mallon

    Professor and Chair Department of Philosophy; Director, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis; author of The Construction of Human Kinds