Judgment and Decision Making
Psych 154 (3 units, letter grade)
Bldg. 160 (Wallenberg Hall), Rm. 127
M 3:00-5:50 PM
Prerequisites: Background in experimental psychology or economics.


Brian Knutson
Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience
Bldg 420, Room 476
Email: knutson'at'
Office Hours: W 2:00-3:30 PM


Decisions pervade our existence and determine the course and quality of our lives, both as individuals and as a society. Despite their ubiquity, why are decisions so difficult and fallible, and what can we do to improve them?

This upper-division seminar explores decision-making from an interdisciplinary perspective, beginning with normative approaches (i.e., how should we choose?), followed by descriptive evidence (i.e., how do we choose?), and ending with prescriptive methods of closing the gap between them (i.e., how could we choose better?).

Course goals include: (1) building familiarity with key concepts and theories related to decision making; (2) critical evaluation and constructive elaboration of relevant tools and evidence; and (3) preparation to conduct innovative interdisciplinary research and apply findings to improve decision making.

Recommended (but not required) readings:

Kahneman, Daniel (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, New York, NY.


  • The initial class touches on normative accounts of choice ("system 2") and tools.

  • Subsequent classes will explore descriptive accounts of choice ("system 1+2") and relevant evidence.

  • Later classes will consider prescriptive accounts of choice ("system 3"), including strategies for optimizing choice.

  • The final class will feature students' presentations of proposed projects.
  • Date Theme Readings
    24.01.08 Introduction & Definitions / Normative Value & Tools Fox (2015) / Dawes (1979), Swets et al (2000)
    24.01.15 (MLK Day)
    24.01.22 Mental limits / Shortcuts Simon (1956), Miller (1956) / Tversky & Kahneman (1974)
    24.01.29 Descriptive value / Extensions Kahneman & Tversky (1984) / Camerer (2000)
    24.02.05 Anomalies / Emotion Thaler (2018) / Finucane et al (2000), Wilson & Gilbert (2005)
    24.02.12 Valuing time / Valuing others Loewenstein et al (1989) / Camerer (2003)
    24.02.19 (Presidents' Day)
    24.02.26 Superforecasting / Neuroforecasting Mellers et al (2015) / Knutson & Genevsky (2018)
    24.03.04 Optimizing / Debiasing & Replicating Thaler (2012), Johnson et al (2003) / Larrick (2004), Klein et al. (2014)
    24.03.11 Presentations / Wrap



    Notes & Application (16 x 2 each) 32%
    Intervention & Reflection (18) 18%
    Outline (5) / Presentation (5) / Preregistration (20) 30%
    Attendance (10) / Attention (10) 20%

  • Notes & Application: For each reading (except the first class), students should list three to five main points distilled from the text (bullet points ok) and a question raised by the reading or a potential application to improve your choices ("Notes"). Main points and questions or applications are due electronically midnight the Sunday before each class, with no extensions (but see the grading policy below). The goals of these summaries are to stimulate critical thinking and encourage engagement in class discussions.

  • Intervention & Reflection: This assignment involves identifying a habitual choice that you would like to change, and then trying to change it. For the first day, simply identify and track the choice (quantification might be helpful, but is not required). For the second day, implement the intervention and track the choice. For a third day, remove the intervention and track the choice. At the end write a short report (1-2 pages) on what choice you targeted, the intervention, whether you were able to change the choice, why, and how this might inform your actions going forward (e.g., going forward, will you improve, continue, or abandon the intervention). The goal of this exercise is to explore how the course material might apply to your personal life.

  • Draft / Presentation / Preregistration : This assignment involves developing a preregistered proposal to conduct an experiment relevant to choice (ideally, this could relate to research you might eventually conduct). Proposals will follow a preregistered report format actually used by researchers (details here). The assignment can be done in pairs. Students should first electronically submit a draft of the proposed research. During the final class, each student or pair will briefly present their proposal to the class in powerpoint format (5 min) to receive additional feedback (8-10 min; presentation order randomly determined). Final proposals will also be in the updated preregistration format (above). The goal of the preregistration is to learn how to innovate and design interdisciplinary research on choice.

  • Attendance / Attention: Attendance refers to physical presence, while attention refers to psychological presence. With respect to attendance, valid reasons for absence include: (1) arrangements made in advance with the instructor to participate in a Stanford sanctioned activity (e.g., athletic competition), (2) a medical condition that requires the treatment of a physician, or (3) the death of a close family member. With respect to attention, participate, and don't use devices in class (since research indicates that they impair learning and decrease grades, unless explicitly required for exercises).

  • Guidelines: Plagiarism and "AI"giarism are considered academic theft -- they cheat the creator, the instructor, and the student. I can and will identify them, which can result in a failing grade.

  • (last update: 24.01.20)