Decision Theory : A Brief Introduction

Decision Theory : A Brief Introduction pdf

Cognitive psychology books1. What is decision theory?

Decision theory is theory about decisions. The subject is not a very unified one. To the contrary, there are many different ways to theorize about decisions, and therefore also many different research traditions. This text attempts to reflect some of the diversity of the subject. Its emphasis lies on the less (mathematically) technical aspects of decision theory.

1.1 Theoretical questions about decisions

The following are examples of decisions and of theoretical problems that they give rise to.

Shall I bring the umbrella today? – The decision depends on something which I do not know, namely whether it will rain or not.

I am looking for a house to buy. Shall I buy this one? – This house looks fine, but perhaps I will find a still better house for the same price if I go on searching. When shall I stop the search procedure?

Am I going to smoke the next cigarette? – One single cigarette is no problem, but if I make the same decision sufficiently many times it may kill me.

The court has to decide whether the defendent is guilty or not.
There are two mistakes that the court can make, namely to convict an innocent person and to acquit a guilty person. What principles should the court apply if it considers the first of this mistakes to be more serious than the second?

A committee has to make a decision, but its members have different opinions. – What rules should they use to ensure that they can reach a conclusion even if they are in disagreement?

Almost everything that a human being does involves decisions. Therefore, to theorize about decisions is almost the same as to theorize about human activitities. However, decision theory is not quite as all-embracing as that. It focuses on only some aspects of human activity.

In particular, it focuses on how we use our freedom. In the situations treated by decision theorists, there are options to choose between, and we choose in a non-random way. Our choices, in these situations, are goal-directed activities. Hence, decision theory is concerned with goal-directed behaviour in the presence of options.

We do not decide continuously. In the history of almost any activity, there ar e periods in which most of the decision-making is made, and other periods in which most of the implementation takes place. Decision-theory tries to throw light, in var ious ways, on the former type of period.

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