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Utility-free Theories of Decision Making

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Course Description

This survey course will examine formal theories of decision making that do NOT rely on utility (or value) functions as bases for describing individual preferences and choices. We begin by discussing the utility-based approach to decision making (which includes EUT, Prospect Theory, etc.), and consider its main strengths and limitations. This initial analysis will motivate the main themes, questions, and goals of the course. Most of the course will be dedicated to the careful identification, comparison, and critique of non-utility theories. Among the theories we will examine are: Reason-Based Choice, the Priority Heuristic, Query Theory, Decision by Sampling, and several others. We will consider each theory's potential for advancing our ability to model and understand human decision making, as well as its limitations and some possible solutions to these limitations. The main goal of the course is to expose students to these alternative approaches and consider their potential (or lack thereof) for moving us beyond the limitations associated with utility-based approaches. As part of the course, students will apply one (or more) of these theories to their existing research projects/questions, as a means of acquiring "hands on" experience with utility-free approaches and learning to use them in their own research and theorizing.


Lecture: 100min/wk and Recitation: 50min/wk