Seminar in Experimental Psychology: Psychology 520T

Internet Research on Judgment and Decision Making

Fall, 2001

Time: TuTh 2:30-3:45

Office: H -628C check H-523. Office Hours: Tu 3:50-6:50, by appointment

Prof. Michael H. Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Psychology is the study of alternate explanations of behavior. Therefore, this course will begin with a discussion of the philosophy of explanation (scientific theories). We will consider simple theories consisting of three premises: stimulus, model, and response. The models considered will be addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There will be many examples of simple algebraic models from different fields of psychology. From these simple models, approaches to more complex measures and theory tests will be developed.

The course will include practical information about conducting judgment and decision making research via the Internet and on the use of Excel (with a bit of SPSS) for analyzing data. The emphasis will be on techniques to test theories rather than techniques for testing statistical significance.

The course will be vital to those who theorize in terms of psychological constructs such as hunger, drive, motivation, attraction, job satisfaction, prejudice, etc. It will also be valuable to those who plan to do research in which numerical dependent variables are assumed to measure the psychological values of the participants.

Tentative Outline

Week Date Topics and Tentative Schedule

1 Philosophy of science; explanation

2 Aug. 21 Functions; Algebraic Models of Perception

3 Sept. 3 Simple Models and Psychophysical Functions

4 _______ More about Additive & Multiplicative Models

5 _______ Additive Model and Regression

6 _______ Ratio Model; Mult. Model; Models & Measurement

7 Oct. 2 Judgment Functions; Transformation

8 _______ Exam 1: Oct 9

9 _______ Decision Making

10 _______ Utility Theory

(11) _______ Selected Topics and Project discussions

12 Nov. 6 Selected Topics and Projects

13 _______ Selected Topics and Projects

********** Thanksgiving Recess: Nov. 19-23 — No classes. ******

14 _______ Selected Topics and Projects

15 _______ Topics in Decision-Making

16 _______ Completed Projects Due Dec 13 at Final 2:30-4 pm-



Attendance and Participation

Attendance at all meetings of the class and participation in the seminar meetings are required. If you miss class for any reason, you are still responsible for assignments, announcements, and other information presented during your absence. You should plan with class mates to get notes, handouts, etc. in case you are forced to miss a session due to sudden illness or emergency.


There will be an assignment made in each class meeting. Bring your work to the next class meeting. Plan your schedule to allow time to complete assignments between class sessions. The purpose of homework is to provide an opportunity for you to confront the subject matter and to teach it to yourself. You are to work alone, but you may refer to your class notes, readings, and you are permitted to use calculators and computers. Even if you are unable to do the homework, you should spend several hours trying to do it and bring your attempts to the next class. Because solutions will be discussed at the next class meeting, late homework will receive half credit if one week late, and 1/4 credit if more than one week late.

Until the homework has been collected, you are not supposed to get help from others or to give help to others -- the policy is that homework are like take-home exams. They are open-book, but you must work alone. If homeworks are duplicated or look-alikes, neither the author nor the copier of the homework will receive credit, so you are advised not to show your homeworks to others, lest you lose credit.


At the end of the semester, you will turn in your notebook which will include class notes, homework assignments, exams, quizzes, etc.


During the last part of the course you will be carrying out and writing up a project, which will be a small experiment, written up APA style.

Exams and Quizzes

There will be two examinations scheduled, and there may also be surprise quizzes of lesser value, given during scheduled class hours.


Grades will be based on the total number of points. Approximate values of the course components are as follows:


Points Possible

Attendance & Participation






Papers & Notebook




Hard Work

Be prepared to work hard in this class. Some material will seem easy in class until you try to do the homework. Then you will discover the difference between being a performer and a member of the audience. Euclid's statement to King Ptolemy applies to material of this class: There is no "royal road" to this subject.

This course may lead to Masters' Thesis research. You are encouraged to develop plans for your Masters’ project and begin library work and pilot research on ideas for the thesis. At the same time, the questions that you plan to study in this class should be framed in a way that fits the goals of this course; that is, they should be framed as scientific theories. Papers used for credit in another class may not count for credit in this class.