Some very general considerations about economics and psychology
The human being is the animal for whom knowledge has been the essential survival instrument. Since the fire discovery, the man started a long walk that leaded him to rapidly increase its amount of knowledge. However, since the age of the great contribution of the ancient Greeks to history of knowledge, it appeared clear that the complexity of nature was too high to be encompassed by a single man. So, similarly to what happened for the division of labour, the specialization of knowledge had to become the main form of human investigation about nature.
Often, in the past, the contact of two different branches of knowledge originated a strong impulse to the progress of the human understanding. This has been true for the encounter of economics and mathematics that leaded to the birth of the modern economic science. This will be probably true also for the encounter of economics and computer science that permitted, and will permit more and more, the development of more complex and accurate models. The contact between economics and psychology has already occurred, and many theories have been developed, but how should we evaluate them?
The study of human behaviour has always been an important subject of philosophy, from the De Anima by Aristotle to the Ethics by Spinoza, just to cite two among numerous masterpieces. In more recent times, with the birth of the phenomenology (Husserl) and of the modern psychology (Wundt, Brentano and Freud), and with the contribution of the many scholars that came one after the other, the investigation on the profound causes of human behaviours reached an exceptional depth and quality. Finally, it shouldn’t be disregarded the fundamental importance that literature has in this field, with its deep intuitions that unveil some of the real origins of human behaviours, and some of the complicated (or simple) mechanisms that influence or shape them.
The question that should be answered now is: in which measure, with which profundity level, and with which results the science of economics has incorporated the noteworthy knowledge on the human being accumulated in the field of psychology?
Personally I think that there is still a long way to walk, and that we are still close to the starting point. The strong relation between (human) economics and human psychology has still big margins of investigation, particularly regarding the mechanisms of mutual influence, because if it is true that, given a certain economic structure, the human psychology has a key role in order to comprehend and predict its trends, it is also true that the economic structure itself has been somewhat determined by the human psychology.
Therefore, with all due respect to the admirable attempts to keep into account psychology, that have been done by illustrious scientists (Pareto, Keynes, Simon, Kahneman, only to cite some outstanding name), there is still a long way to walk. The fact that a so simple idea, an obvious idea if you allow me, like the idea of “bounded rationality”, well-known since immemorial times, had an explosive effect on the economic science, clearly speaks about the long way we still have in front of us.