Judgment Misguided: Intuition and Error in Public Decision Making

Judgment Misguided: Intuition and Error in Public Decision Making

Judgment Misguided: Intuition and Error in Public Decision Making

Judgment Misguided: Intuition and Error in Public Decision Making


People often follow intuitive principles of decision making, ranging from group loyalty to the belief that nature is benign. But instead of using these principles as rules of thumb, we often treat them as absolutes and ignore the consequences of following them blindly. In Judgment Misguided, Jonathan Baron explores our well-meant and deeply felt personal intuitions about what is right and wrong, and how they affect the public domain. Baron argues that when these intuitions are valued in their own right, rather than as a means to another end, they often prevent us from achieving the results we want. Focusing on cases where our intuitive principles take over public decision making, the book examines some of our most common intuitions and the ways they can be misused. According to Baron, we can avoid these problems by paying more attention to the effects of our decisions. Written in a accessible style, the book is filled with compelling case studies, such as abortion, nuclear power, immigration, and the decline of the Atlantic fishery, among others, which illustrate a range of intuitions and how they impede the public's best interests. Judgment Misguided will be important reading for those involved in public decision making, and researchers and students in psychology and the social sciences, as well as everyone looking for insight into the decisions that affect us all.


This book presents my current thinking about what is important in the psychology of thinking and decision making and how it relates to questions of public interest. I try to provide sufficient references so that an academic reader could track down the source of these ideas. The ideas here are a continuation of those presented in an article I wrote for Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1994, titled "Nonconsequentialist Decisions."

I would like this to be read by everyone concerned with public affairs or the psychology of thinking and decision making. That is, of course, too much to expect.

In attempting to reach a somewhat wider audience than usual for me, I have tried to simplify the presentation by eliminating some of the usual academic qualifications, such as "It could be argued that X" when I really mean to say that I think X is true. I have also put references in endnotes so as not to clutter the text.

I am grateful for specific comments and general advice in the early stages of this project from Paul Rozin, Martin Seligman, and Karen Steinberg. Helpful comments on specific chapters came from Willett Kempton, Howard Kunreuther, Howard Margolis, Jay Schulkin, Karen Steinberg, and Peter Ubel. Judy Baron, David Baron, Deborah Frisch, Joshua Greene, Robert Jervis, and Joan Bossert and Nancy Hoagland (at Oxford University Press) provided helpful comments on the whole book. Mark Spranca convinced me of the importance of the intuition of naturalism, and Howard Margolis strengthened my belief that intuitions can affect public outcomes. Before and during the writing of this book, my research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. David Baron helped with typesetting, which was done with LATEX2e in Adobe Palatino font.

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