Agricultural decision making and climate uncertainty in developing countries

Kurt B. Waldman, Peter M. Todd, Shahera Omar, Jordan P. Blekking, Stacey A. Giroux, Shahzeen Z. Attari, Kathy Baylis, Tom P. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


In situations of uncertainty, people often make decisions with heuristic shortcuts or decision rules, rather than using computational or logical methods such as optimizing their behavior based on specific goals. The high level of uncertainty and complexity involved in adapting to climate change suggests that heuristics would be commonly used in this context rather than more structured decision methods. Through a systematic review of 137 articles, from 2007-2017 we explore the behavioral and cognitive assumptions used to examine agricultural decision-making related to climate change among farmers in developing countries. We find a strong orientation toward modeling behavior and decision making as a rational utility-maximizing process, despite decades of research demonstrating the prevalence of simpler heuristic choice when facing uncertainty and real-world constraints. Behavioral and cognitive approaches can increase our ability to predict or explain decisions being made in this realm, particularly in terms of how we understand decision making around information processing and risk assessment. In the following review, we highlight articles that have contributed to developing a more realistic decision-making framework for studying this problem on the ground. While there is a burgeoning literature using psychological insights to examine decision making under climate uncertainty, few studies consider the prevalence of simple heuristics, the presence of cognitive biases, and the salience of climate relative to other risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113004
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • agriculture
  • behavior
  • climate change
  • heuristics
  • rationality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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