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Game Theory in Psychology and Social Decision Making

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 16, 2014 - June 27, 20142M-F 3:50-6:40PWaitlistedRyan Miller, Patrick Heck10663

Course Description

Decision-making is a necessarily social endeavor. A variety of considerations must be taken into account before we make decisions when we're interacting with other people. This course will explore the psychological factors that influence our decisions to cooperate, defect, trust, punish, reward and make otherwise impactful decisions when others are involved. We will do so by adopting game theory as the primary lens through which we explore human psychology, behavior, interpersonal interaction, and negotiation in a social world.

This course will focus on game theoretic approaches to social psychology and decision-making. The course will be structured according to three units based on the causes and consequences of decision-making in a social world: selfishness and defection, cooperation and prosociality, and norms and punishment. We will complement each unit by playing, as a class, economic games used in contemporary economic and psychological research (Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods Game, Dictator Game, etc.).

This course will aim to address a fundamental tension between economic and psychological approaches to decision-making: economic theories often suggest that greedy, self-interested behavior is rational, while research in Psychology repeatedly highlights the cooperative and prosocial nature of human beings. We will review recent studies in psychology and economics in order to engage this tension head-on.

At the conclusion of the course, students will have a working knowledge of the factors that underlie selfish and cooperative behavior. This course will be useful for students interested in psychology, cognition, and behavior - these introductory topics will provide a natural foundation to enroll in college courses in Psychology.

By the end of this course, students will be able to do the following:

a.) Classify what makes a decision ‘rational’ and when behaving selfishly is the best option.

b.) Articulate the distinction between what economics tells us how we ‘should’ behave and how psychology reveals how we actually behave.

c.) Identify evolutionary and social influences on decision-making behavior.

d.) Calculate expected probabilities and values for decisions using payoff matrices.

e.) Apply the principals and structure of game theory to real-world decisions.

Although some experience with either Psychology or Economics may be helpful, it is not required.