Decisions under Risk and Uncertainty

As any gambler knows, risks come with benefits. But there is an additional benefit of risks: when something terrible happens as a result of human planning, we can learn something about how to do better the next time. In this course sequence we explore what we know about how people make decisions about technologies and new media and apply our understanding of risk to the design of safe, secure technologies. We consider cases such as eBay and the Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster, as well as examples of resilient engineering, to discover what can go wrong and how to make technology more beneficial and safe.

The course sequence considers diverse approaches to safety, security and risk. It focuses in-depth on decision theory, risk and trust in social media, and the analysis and control of societal risk. In addition to becoming more rational decision makers, students can expect to learn how to anticipate risks as engineers, and to understand its scientific, social, and normative implications in an information society.


The Decisions under Risk and Uncertainty Exploratory Course takes a broad view technological risk and how people respond to risks (for example by taking/accepting risks, avoiding risks, trusting others to deal with risks, analyzing risks scientifically, or designing technology more safely). Topics include an introduction to (psychological and rational) principles of decision-making under risk, risk analysis, informational and network security, and the social aspects of risk, safety and security. The role of technology in creating and responding to risks, and the relation to USE (user, society, enterprise) will be analyzed through case studies.


This USE sequence has two specialized courses:

Analysis and Control of Risk

The first half of this course presents a comprehensive framework for risk analysis, looking at how scientific and technical approaches to risk assessment and safety engineering relate to the ethics and politics of risk. We approach this through the interdisciplinary normative theory of risk management and governance, which embeds scientific risk assessment within social, political and ethical analysis. Topics include the role of (trust in) expert knowledge, the distribution of risks over times, places, and people, the importance of uncertainty, the “precautionary principle” and its limits, and how psychological, political and media representations of risk complicate risk management. In the second half of the course, students specialize in methods for studying risks associated with processes, hazardous substances, medical risks, etc.  We look at representative scientific and technical methods for measuring, evaluating and controlling risks. Students will prepare a case study.

Decision Theory

This course focuses on normative and psychological approaches to decision making. In the normative part of the course, we look at how rational agents and intelligent systems should make decisions according to rational decision theory and game theory. Rational strategies are developed for coping with risks in situations of known risk, uncertainty and ignorance. In the empirical/psychological part of the course, we look at the acceptance of technology and its' risks, the psychometric paradigm, the psychology of trust and acceptance, peoples’ acceptance of technology, how they represent risks mentally, how risks affect behavior, and how trust affects risk perception. The course will address the distinction between calculated risks and perceived risks, the role of emotions, and the way people deal with probabilities, as well as biases in risk perception.


In the Decision Under Risk and Uncertainty Projects, students working in groups combine scientific/technical knowledge with social scientific knowledge, and/or a normative framework to create a text, design, or artifact. All projects are based on the same assignment template. In cooperation with various Departments of the TU/e nine such projects for different technological areas have already been defined (see the Application section of the deliverables for descriptions).

Started the Bachelor College in 2014 or later? As part of your USE Learning Trajectory, you must participate in 5 Studium Generale activities marked with the USE logo. Important: You can start participating in these activities as soon as you enroll at TU/e.

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