Real-World Probability Books: Psychology of Probability

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin, 2011.

This book summarizes 40 years of psychology research showing that we are much less rational than we believe, in ways that are analyzable and therefore (in principle) that we can learn to counteract. It has been almost universally praised by many others, and I am happy to join that consensus. With 38 ten-page chapters, the style is that of a scholar making great effort to write in clear and non-technical language, though parts still require a level of attention higher than casual reading. Dan Ariely's book (below) covers some of the same themes in a more chatty style.

Chapters 10 and 13-21 are the most relevant to my course, though I encourage students to read the entire book.

Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational. HarperCollins, 2008.

Though not directly relevant to our topic of probability, this is a wonderful book, at the popular end of the popular science spectrum, on behavioral economics. Chapters illustrate a dozen aspects of people's irrationality, exemplified by
(i) we assess prices relative to some "anchor" price rather than in absolute terms
(ii) "free" exerts great psychological attraction
(iii) how tension between market exchanges and social exchanges perplexes us
(iv) the "endowment effect" - we place more value on things if we own them than if we don't.

Nickerson, Raymond S. Cognition and Chance. The psychology of probabilistic reasoning. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004.

Useful and interesting book for several reasons. Style is midway between popular science and scholars writing for other scholars. The initial chapters recount history and the basic frequentist/Bayesian/etc philosophies. The later chapters describe what experiments by psychologists like Tversky have shown about the way people think about probability. The book touches upon many different topics, and gives around 1000 references, so it's an invaluable resource for seeing the big picture of what scholars have thought about, and for leads into the research literature. Downside: description of research is (to my taste) often rather vague and the author's verbal discussion is rather bland -- as if written by a committee -- rather than crisp statements followed by critical analysis.

Mazur, Joesph. What's Luck Got to Do with It?: The history, mathematics, and psychology of the gambler's illusion, Princeton University Press, 2010.

See my review.

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