A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior

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Course Date: 11 March 2014 to 06 May 2014 (8 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Behavioral economics couples scientific research on the psychology of decision making with economic theory to better understand what motivates financial decisions. In A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, you will learn about some of the many ways in which we behave in less than rational ways, and how we might overcome our shortcomings. You’ll also learn about cases where our irrationalities work in our favor, and how we can harness these human tendencies to make better decisions.

Estimated Workload: 7-11 hours/week

Course Instructors

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, with appointments in the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the department of Economics. As one of the foremost leaders in psychology and behavioral economics, Dr. Ariely has published his research in top economic, medical and psychology journals and is the author of Predictably Irrational (2008), The Upside of Irrationality (2010), and The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty (2012), three bestselling general audience books about research in behavioral economics. In addition, he is the founding member of The Center For Advanced Hindsight. More information about Dan can be found at: www.danariely.com

Course Description

This course will draw heavily on my own research, and pulls largely from my three books: Predictably Irrational (2008), The Upside of Irrationality (2010), and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty (2012). We will examine topics such as our “irrational” patterns of thinking about money and investments, how expectations shape perception, economic and psychological analyses of dishonesty by honest people, how social and financial incentives work together (or against each other) in labor, how self-control comes into play with decision making, and how emotion (rather than cognition) can have a large impact on economic decisions. This highly interdisciplinary course will be relevant to all human beings.

The goals of this class:
  1. Introduce you to the range of cases where people (consumers, investors, managers, friends, significant others, and even you) might make decisions that are inconsistent with standard economic theory and the assumptions of rational decision making. This is the lens of behavioral economics.
  2. Help you think creatively about the applications of behavioral economics to the development of new products, technologies and public policy, and to understand how business and social policy strategies could be modified with a deeper understanding of the effects these principles have on all of us.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who complete the class with a grade of 85% and above will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by Dan.


There are two tracks that you can take to receive a Statement of Accomplishment for this course. For each track, you will need to earn a grade of 85% or above, but your path toward that grade will be different under each track.

50% Lecture Quizzes
50% Final Exam

 20% Reading Quizzes
 20% Lecture Quizzes
 30% Final Exam
 15% "Solve a Problem" Writing Assignment
 15% "Design an Experiment" Writing Assignment


Precourse:       Introduction to Behavioral Economics

Week 1:           Irrationality

Week 2:           Psychology of Money

Week 3:           Dishonesty

Week 4:           Labor and Motivation

Week 5:           Self-control

Week 6:           Emotion

Postcourse:    Applications

Suggested Reading

I will cover some of the material that is in my 3 books (Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty).

And in honor of this class, all three books will be available as an e-bundle. You can purchase the Irrational Bundle:

In the US and Canada:Amazon, iBooks, Google, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

Everywhere Else: Amazon, iBookstore, Google Play, Nook, Kobo, eBooks by Sainsbury's.

Course Workload

7-11 hours/week

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