December 14, 2017, BY Beth Kaszuba

What class? Being Less Wrong

Who teaches it? Professor Matt Bailey, management

"In this course, students discover, analyze and learn how to account for the hidden traps and cognitive biases that are an inherent part of day-to-day decision-making.

"Being Less Wrong is a foundation seminar. These courses are designed not only to expose students to reading and writing critically in an academic setting, but also to advise them as they transition from secondary education to college. The topics we cover meet that second goal by incorporating real-life stresses and decisions that new college students face. For example, we discuss selecting a major, understanding personal risk tolerance and choosing courses. Beyond addressing these professional and academic decisions, the students read, critique and present several papers from a wide variety of academic fields.

"The course content draws from resources in management, economics, psychology and mathematics. Students are often skeptical about how susceptible they will be to various decision-making traps and flaws. To counter this, I include regular activities and discussions of controversial current events that enable students to experience firsthand just how vulnerable they are.

"For example, to illustrate students' susceptibility to ownership bias, or valuing things we own above their actual market value, we re-create a classic experiment in which half the students are given Bucknell mugs to sell, while the other half can offer to buy them. We find that the 'owners' price their mugs at almost twice what the 'buyers' are willing to pay. This type of exercise allows students to discover and confront their own decision-making flaws and initiates further discussion.

"Over the semester, the course progresses from exploring and experiencing our own flawed decision-making processes to introducing and applying the techniques of decision modeling and analysis, as related to organizations.

"My background and research are in prescriptive decision-making, meaning the processes organizations should use to make better decisions. These are often in conflict with how individuals actually do make decisions. I wanted to explore the differences between what we should do and our actual actions in an interesting and multidisciplinary way, and pique students' interest enough for them to explore related elective courses or majors while at Bucknell."

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