Class on Decision Making
Introduction (Via Jonathan Baron, Katherine Laskey, Rex V. Brown @Upenn)
Every day, we make hundreds of choices. We choose what to wear, what to do when we get home from work or school, and how to respond when someone makes fun of us. Sometimes we also make big decision, such as what kind of school to go to, what career to pursue, whether to get married, and whether to have a child. Sometimes people make decisions that are even bigger than these because the decisions affect hundreds or millions of people – decisions about war and peace or about changes in the laws. Even if we ourselves don’t make such big decisions, we need to understand how they are made.
Most of the time, we make these choices without thinking. For small, routine choices such as how to respond when your friend starts a conversation with you, you do not need to think. You have learned how to talk and how to behave in a friendly way without thinking at all, and your habits serve you well. You could behave differently than you do, of course, but your behavior is probably fine as it is.
In other cases, though, you THINK about your decisions, from what to wear in the morning to how to spend your money. Sometimes people make choices without thinking when they really ought to think a bit. For example, we sometimes say things that hurt people’s feelings and then we feel bad for having said them. Can you think of other examples of things we do because we didn’t think first?
The purpose of this book is to help you improve your decision making. It will teach you WHEN it is worth thinking about decisions and, mostly, HOW to think about them once you start thinking.
It will teach by example. You will be given a problem about decision making. First, think about the problem and try to answer it. You can discuss the problem with someone else. Then turn the page and look at the answer carefully.
Where do these answers come from, and why are they right? The answers come from a field of study called decision theory. It is taught in colleges and graduate schools. It is sometimes used as a way of making very important decisions such as whether to have surgery or where to locate an airport.
People who study decision theory and write about agree about some things and disagree about others. In our answers, we make our own best effort to give the right answer. All of us are scholars who have written about decision theory, and the answers we give are, in most cases, the same as the answers that any other scholar in this field would give. However, in some cases, other scholars would disagree with us.
You might disagree with us too, and you might be right. But give us a chance. Don’t just assume that your first answer is the right one. Don’t think that if an answer FEELS wrong it must BE wrong. Our feelings are not always the best guide to good decisions. If we relied on our feelings, we’d never go to the dentist!
After you read our answer, you will be given other problems to work out, sometimes without the answers. Try to apply what you have learned from the worked-out examples to these new problems.
Excerpt (Via Jonathan Baron, Katherine Laskey, Rex V Brown @ Upenn)
There are four things to consider when making a decision:
The first letters of these make up the word GOOP. Making a decision well involves thinking about all four of these elements. It might be that we don’t need to think much about one of these elements (such as probability), but we need to check to make sure.