Psychology 600
Judgments and Decisions, Fall 2012

TTh 3-5, B35 Solomon Psychology Lab Building
Professor Jonathan Baron (, schedule, Office: C7 Solomon)

Overview and policies

This course addresses the ideal standards of judgment and decision making, and the ways in which people fall short according to these standards. Understanding of the ideals and our limitations can help improve judgments and decisions in such fields as medicine, law, and public policy.

This syllabus will be revised often. Use the reload button on your browser to make sure you have the latest version.

Email Send mail to the mailing list here: The archives are here. All students can send email to this list. Feel free to use it as a way of continuing a discussion that we did not have time to finish in class. The archives are readable only by those in the class, and me.

Exams and assignments

Because this is a half course, there will be no midterm exam. Instead I would like you to write two discussion papers, following the format after the schedule below. One of these should concern "beliefs" and the other "decisions", corresponding to the two main parts of the course. ("Judgments" could be in either part.)

The final will consist of short essay questions. They will include both topics in the reading and topics covered in class. Exams are open-book, typed, time- and page-limited, and submitted by electronic mail or web form. The final will be designed for two hours of work (including both writing and looking things up). The starting time is somewhat flexible. (I can instruct the computer to send you the exam at a particular time.)



Here is the course schedule by week. Links for the names of topic go to notes that I will use in class. You should be able to print these notes if you want to, before class. But please wait until the last minute to do that, as I am constantly revising. The slides do not work properly in Internet Explorer, although you might be able to print them. To print the slides using Firefox without wasting paper, use the menus: "View / Use Style / print," then "File / Print." The letter T stands for Thinking and deciding and the links go to the new chapters.

9/6 Introduction: T1-4

9/11 Probability: T5,

9/13 Probability and calibration: T6
  Dick Cavett on coincidences
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1131.

9/18 Hypothesis testing, correlation and contingency: T7, T8.
Intelligent design

9/20 Irrational belief persistence: T9.
  Lord, C. G., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098-2109. (P)

9/25 Utility: T10
  Bernoulli, D. (1954). Exposition of a new theory of the measurement of risk (L. Sommer, Trans.). Econometrica, 22, 23-26. (Original work published 1738)

9/27 Decisions under uncertainty:
  Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.

10/2 Reference dependence in choice: T12, Tritch, T. (2007). Helping people help themselves.
Thaler, R. H., Sunstein, C. R., & Balz, J. P. (2010). Choice architecture.

10/3 Due date for first paper.

10/.. Utility measurement (and a little decision analysis).

10/.. Judgment: T15.
  Grove, W. M., Meehl, P. E. (1989). Comparative efficiency of informal (subjective, impressionistic) and formal (mechanical, algorithmic) prediction procedures: The clinical-statistical controversy. . Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 2, 293-323.

10/9 Moral thinking, utilitarianism, and fairness (Both): T16, T17 Million-dollar Murray (Gladwell)

10/11 Social dilemmas, and voting (Both): T18 Approval voting (Wikipedia)

10/18 Public policy issues: Intertemporal choice and risk: T19, T20

10/21 final exam, sent by email, 1-3 default time

10/23 Due date for second paper.

Assignment: Discussion paper.

Write a short (absolute maximum 250 lines, 70 characters per line; minimum 25 lines) reflective discussion of some topic from the course. (Here is a form if you want to use it.) This should require no additional research, although you should of course acknowledge any sources that you use because you already know them (including course reading). Do not feel obliged to fill up the 250 lines; 125 should suffice if you write succinctly.

One possible format for this paper is a philosophical discussion of some question from the course, such as whether self-deception is rational (but probably not that one). Try to avoid questions that have completely trivial answers and questions so big that a book would be required to answer them. Avoid mere recapitulation of arguments in the reading as well as unsympathetic attacks on it. Avoid one-sided presentations that ignore the arguments of the other side. Feel free to ask if a topic is appropriate. A good model to follow is the discussion of self-deception on pp. 63-65 of the text, especially the discussion of whether self-deception can be rational. Feel free to skip ahead in the reading if you wish to hand in the paper early. If you choose this kind of topic, make sure to consider (and rebut, or take into account) objections to arguments you make.

Another possible format is something more like a research proposal. Take a result from the course, propose alternative explanations of it, and suggest ways of distinguishing them.

Last modified 10/18/12

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict