Kahneman, Tversky and Prince Charlie. Cognitive Biases that caused Culloden
How cognitive biases affected seven decisions that led to Culloden - and how we can avoid making the same mistakes today.
Culloden - the last battle fought on British soil and perhaps the darkest day in Scottish history. Yet, like many catastrophes, it was not the consequence of a single decision, but rather of a cumulative chain of events which turned potential triumph into disaster.
In the 2023 National Trust for Scotland / 1745 Association Annual Culloden Lecture, the Association's current Chair, Michael Nevin, draws on the pioneering research of Nobel Laureates Herbert Simon, Maurice Allais, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler and others to analyse seven strategic decisions that led to the tragic events of April 16th 1746. The seven decisions were as follows:
1. Summer 1745: the decision to launch an expedition to Scotland.
2. August 1745: the decision to continue the campaign after the loss of the "Elisabeth".
3. October 30th 1745: the decision to advance into England.
4. December 5th 1745: the decision to retreat from Derby.
5. December 19th 1745: the decision to leave a garrison at Carlisle.
6. February 1746: the decision to retreat from Central Scotland north into the Highlands.
7. April 15th /16th 1746: the Night March on Nairn and the decision to stand at Culloden.
Why were these decisions taken? What alternatives might have been considered, and could they have led to a different outcome? And how can we counter the cognitive biases that influenced the Jacobite leadership in 1745/46?
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