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Cognitive Anomalies, Decision-Making, & Democracy - PHI00119H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Robert Davies
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

Cognitive effects and biases (e.g. implicit bias, confirmation bias, choice blindness, 'group think', temporal discounting) impact on our ability to make good, rational decisions, both individually and as groups. This module will examine a selection of these effects, reflect on their implications for individual and collective judgements, and consider how they might be mitigated.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

Students will develop an understanding of (a) a range of cognitive effects and biases and the empirical evidence for their existence, (b) philosophical issues relating to these effects and biases (including ethical implications and implications for our ability to make rational decisions), (c) how the work of philosophers (past and present) can cast light on these effects and how they might be mitigated.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should:

  • understand and be able to explain a diverse body of philosophical, psychological, and interdisciplinary research, concerning cognitive effects and biases that impact rational decision-making
  • understand philosophical work that informs, is related to, or highlights the implications of, these effects and biases (including ethical considerations and implications for widely accepted theses in the philosophy of mind)
  • be able to discuss and critically evaluate views on cognitive effects and biases and their impact upon individual and group decision-making, and relate these to broader philosophical concerns in philosophy of mind and/or ethics, using a variety of formats (including a group wiki and an individual essay)

Module content

The module will consider a number of cognitive effects and biases which can impact on our ability to make good, rational choices, both individually and in groups. The effects that might be considered include: implicit bias, confirmation bias, ‘choice blindness’, temporal discounting, the ‘backfire effect’, paradoxes of voting and group decision-making, and various ‘group-think’ effects. (The module will concentrate on a selection of these in order to provide focus and to allow students to explore material patiently and in depth.) The module will consider empirical evidence for the existence of these effects; the interpretation of that evidence; implications for our conceptions of ourselves as introspectively competent, rational decision-makers; consequences for individual and group decision-making; measures which might be taken to counteract the effects; and related ethical questions.

Lectures will address both empirical and philosophical work on these biases, their implications for decision-making, and related philosophical issues (including engagement with philosophical issues in self-knowledge, memory, testimony, and ethics).

The lectures will be complemented by seminars, where there will be an emphasis on the broader implications for decision-making, conceptions of ourselves as rational, society and democracy, and on what can or might be done to mitigate these effects.

Part of the assessment will consist of a group wiki. Individual marks for this will be determined by markers in light of individual contribution. Additional support will be given for this special form of assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 1500 words
N/A 60
Group Wiki 2000 words
N/A 40

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 1500 words
N/A 60
Short Literature Survey/Discussion Piece 1500 words
N/A 40

Module feedback

Verbal feedback on essay plans will be provided within two weeks of submission. Summative feedback will be returned according to current University and Departmental policy.

Indicative reading

  • Brownstein, M. and Saul, J. (Eds.) (2016) Implicit Bias and Philosophy Vol. 2: Moral Responsibility, Structural Injustice, and Ethics. Oxford University Press.
  • Cassam, Q. (2018) Vices of the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Fricker, E. (1994) “Against Gullibility”, in Matilal and Chakrabarti (eds.) 1994, 125–161.
  • Jacoby, L. L. (1978) ‘On Interpreting the Effects of Repetition: Solving a Problem Versus Remembering a Solution’, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 17, 649–67.
  • Johansson, P., Hall, L., SikStrom, S., Tarning, B. and Lind, A. (2006) ‘How something can be said about Telling More than We Can Know’, Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 673-692.
  • Kelly, T. (2008) ‘Disagreement, Dogmatism, and Belief Polarization’, The Journal of Philosophy, 105 (10), 611–33.
  • Klein, S. B. (2012) ‘Self, Memory, and the Self-Referencing Effect: An Examination of Conceptual and Methodological Issues’, Personality andSocial Psychology Review, 16 (3), 283–300.
  • Koriat, A. (1995) ‘Our Knowledge of Our Own Knowledge: Monitoring andControl Processes in Memory’, in Pawlik, K. (ed.) Bericht uber denKongress der Deutschen Gesselschaft fur Psychologie in Hamburg 1994, Gottingen: Hogrefe.
  • Locke, J. (1706/1996) ‘Of the Conduct of the Understanding’, in Grant, R. and Tarcov, N. (Eds.) Some Thoughts Concerning Education and of the Conduct of the Understanding. Hackett Classics.
  • Loftus, E. F. (1998), Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 142, (1), 60-73
  • Nickerson, R. S. (1998) ‘Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises’, Review of General Psychology, 2 (2), 175–220.
  • Nisbett, R. and Wilson, T. (1977) 'Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes', Psychological Review, 84, 231–259.
  • Nyhan, B. and Reifler, J. (2010) ‘When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions’, Political Behaviour, 32 (2), 303–30.
  • Owens, D. (1999) ‘The Authority of Memory’, European Journal of Philosophy, 7(3), 312–29.
  • Schwitzgebel, E. (2008) 'The Unreliability of Naive Introspection', Philosophical Review, 117 (2008), 245­273
  • Slamecka, N. J. and Graf, P. (1978) ‘The Generation Effect: Delineation of a Phenomenon’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4 (6), 592–604.
  • Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1974) ‘Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases’, Science, New Series, 185 (4175) 1124-1131
  • Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1983) ‘Extensional Versus Intuitive Reasoning: The Conjunction Fallacy in Probability Judgement’, Psychological Review, 90 (4) 293–315
  • Wilson, T. (2004) Strangers to Ourselves. Belknap Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.