Decision Behavior: Theory and Evidence (3-4 units)
Spring Quarter 2009-2010, Stanford University
Instructor:  Todd Davies
Meeting Time: Mondays and Wednesdays, 4:15-5:30 pm
Location:  460-334 (Margaret Jacks Hall, 3rd Floor)
Instructor's Office: 460-040C (Margaret Jacks Hall, lower level)
Phone: x3-4091; Fax: x3-5666
Email: davies at
Office Hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 10:30- 11:55 AM
Course website: (homepage is this syllabus)
Course description:

Updated May 26, 2010, 6 pm

Course Description:

This course will provide an introduction to the theoretical and experimental study of judgment and decision making, relating theory and evidence from disciplines such as psychology, economics, statistics, neuroscience, and philosophy.  We will trace the development and critique of "homo economicus" as a model of human behavior, and more recent theories based on empirical findings.  Students should be comfortable with formal reasoning.  On the theory side, some background in probability, logic, set theory, and/or game theory would be helpful, but each topic will be developed as much as possible from first principles.  On the empirical side, a previous course in psychology such as Psychology 55 (Introduction to Cognition and the Brain)  or Psych 70 (Introduction to Social Psychology) would be helpful for thinking about experimental tests of hypotheses about human decision making.

Format and Requirements:

The course will consist of interactive lectures, based on notes that will be handed out and posted on this page for each class session. 

Students will be required to complete 4 problem sets (handed out one week in advance of their due dates) and a project, which will be presented in preliminary form in the last class session (for all students) and then (for those taking the 4-unit option) turned in as a final paper, due at the end of the scheduled final exam time for the course.  More information about the project will be handed out on April 5.

The course may be taken for either 3 or 4 units. A final paper version of the project is required only for those taking the course for 4 units.

Comparison With Related Courses Taught at Stanford:

Other courses taught at Stanford that are related to Symsys 170/270 include the folowing:

Symsys 170/270 is designed to complement the material offered in the courses above by focusing on developing students' skills in two areas: (a) deriving results in both normative and descriptive axiomatic theories of decision making, and (b) designing behavioral experiments to test and refine these axiomatic theories. As such, it is particularly focused on how judgment and decision making can be studied, in addition to providing a general overview (or review) of theoretical and empirical findings from the academic literature on judgment and decision making. The course should improve a student's general ability to reason formally and to think experimentally, as well as his/her understanding of how decisions should be made (the normative stance) and of how decisions are made (the descriptive stance).

Supplementary Readings:

There is no textbook for the course, other than the notes that will be handed out before each lecture.  Each lecture's notes will provide a list of references specific to that topic.  The texts below may be useful supplements to the course in general, although they are not required:

Grading Basis:

1. Four problem sets (60%)
2. Project presentation (15%)
3. Project paper (25%)

Schedule (subject to change):

March 29 (Mon.)
Course Overview

March 31 (Weds.)
Rationality pdf

April 5 (Mon.)
Project Assignment handed out
April 7 (Weds.)
Preference pdf

April 12 (Mon.)
Confidence pdf
Problem Set 1 handed out
April 14 (Weds.)

April 19 (Mon.)
Induction pdf
Problem Set 1 due
April 21 (Weds.)
Induction (cont.)

April 26 (Mon.)

Problem Set 2 handed out
April 28 (Weds.)
Action (cont.)

May 3 (Mon.)
Action (cont.)

Problem Set 2 due
May 5 (Weds.)

May 10 (Mon.)
Film: The Trap (2007), episode 1

May 12 (Weds.)
Projection (cont.)
Problem Set 3 handed out
May 17 (Mon.)
Interaction and Agreement

Reading handed out: Lee Ross (1995), "Reactive Devaluation and Conflict Negotiation"
May 19 (Weds.)

May 24 (Mon.)
Exchange and Value

Handout: excerpts from studies of exchange asymmetry, endowment effect, money illusion, and contingent valuation
May 26 (Weds.)
Aggregation, Welfare and Morality

Problem Set 3 due; Problem Set 4 handed out
Reading handed out: Joshua Greene (2005), "From Neural 'Is' to Moral 'Ought': What Are the Moral Implications of Neuroscientific Moral Psychology?"
May 31 (Mon.)

June 2 (Weds.)
Student Presentations
Project Paper due
June 8 (Tues., 3:15 pm)

Problem Set 4 due

* Notes will be posted by, and are subject to change up until, class time