CCST9027 Science, Technology and Big Data
The Science of Irrational Thinking

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth (SCCE)
  • The Quest for a Meaningful Life / The Universe and the Question of Meaning (UQM)

Course Description

Human judgement and decisions are often irrational. People subscribe to fallacies, hold superstitious beliefs, make inconsistent judgements, and allow irrelevant factors to influence decisions. Often, such errors are not due to lack of knowledge or intelligence, but are consequences of the way our brains work. The mental processes that allow us to make decisions in the complex situations of everyday life can also lead us to errors and irrational thinking.

This course examines irrational thinking from a scientific perspective. We will survey a range of systematic errors and biases that have been identified, discuss scientific evidence and explanations, and analyze how these biases manifest themselves in domains like medicine, economics, and consumer choice. A number of class demonstrations, modelled after actual studies, will help illustrate the effects.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify and describe common biases in intuitive judgement and decisions.
  2. Recognize these biases in real world situations and predict their consequences.
  3. Explain psychological theories for these errors and supporting empirical evidence.
  4. Discuss and critically evaluate psychological theories of intuitive judgement and decision making.
  5. Apply knowledge and theories to analyze judgements and decisions in real world situations.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Quizzes 4
Assessment: Written assignments 25
Assessment: Examination 3
Total: 122

Assessment: 60% coursework; 40% examination

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Weekly study questions 10
Tutorial exercises 20
Research essays 30
Examination 40

Required Reading

Core readings:

  • Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably irrational. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York: The Free Press.
  • Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less (1st ed.). New York: ECCO.

Selected chapters from:

  • Gigerenzer, G. (2007). Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. New York: Viking.
  • Groopman, J. E. (2007). How doctors think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Lewis, M. (2003). Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (1994). Inevitable illusions: How mistakes of reason rule our minds. New York: Wiley.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor J.A. Saunders
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 8596
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor J.A. Saunders
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 8596