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
Semester 2 2023-24
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)
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.
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Summative Essay 1500 words
Groupwork Group Wiki 2000 words
Special assessment rules
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Essay 1500 words
Essay/coursework Short Literature Survey/Discussion Piece 1500 words
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.
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.
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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.
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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.