Next in our series of Research Heroes is Christopher K. Hsee, the Theodore O. Yntema Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business who received his PhD in psychology from Yale University in 1993. He conducts research in areas ranging from happiness and consumer behavior to management and cross-cultural issues. His research has been published in a wide range of journals; his recent publications explore topics such as when and why people over-work and over-earn, when and why free competition is bad, and when and why people avoid idleness and seek busyness.
I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that the purpose of doing research should not be just to publish papers or to impress other researchers, but to have a positive influence on people in the real world.
I most admire academically Daniel Kahneman and Dick Thaler, because their research has profound influences both inside and outside the academia.
The research that I am most identified with is probably research on evaluability and joint-vs.-single evaluation, on feeling- vs. calculation-based decisions (with Yuval Rottenstreich), and on culture (with Elke Weber), but recently I have become increasingly interested in conducting research that explores messy and rich real-world issues in controlled and minimalistic lab settings. For example, my co-authors and I have studied when people over-work and over-earn (forthcoming in Psychological Science), when free competition makes people unhappy (forthcoming in OBHDP), why idleness is bad and how to make people busy and happy (2010 in Psychological Science), and what factors have an absolute effect on happiness and what factors have only a relative effect on happiness (2009 in the Journal of Marketing Research).
The worst research project I have worked on during my career… There must be such projects, but I can’t think of any now. I must have suppressed my memories of bad projects.
The most amazing and memorable research-related experience occurred when I was not doing research, but riding a bus, many years ago. The bus was traveling up and down on a hilly road, and I started to wonder how feelings change in response to changes in external stimuli. This question led to the research I conducted at graduate school on the effects of dynamic properties of changing stimuli (such as the trend, the velocity and the acceleration of stock movements) on hedonic experiences (1991 in JPSP; 1994 in JESP).
The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… If I haven’t told such a story, chances are that there isn’t such a story.
A research project I wish I had done… I wish I could do some social experiments to answer big questions, such as what types of modern technologies improve human well-being in the long run and what types hurt it in the long run; whether people would be happier or less happy overall if they could eat ten meals a day without being unhealthy; whether there would be more love or more hatred in the world if everybody became bisexual, etc.
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be an artist. In many aspects, conducting research is like painting — both require observations, insight, and creativity; both seek to capture what’s fleeting and turn it into what’s eternal. (My teenage daughter is a better artist than I am – she did the sketch of me for this blog.)
The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years will be to apply psychological research in general and JDM research in particular to addressing important real world issues and helping enhance the well-being of people.
My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is do not confine yourself to the library or to the lab. Explore the world, talk to different people and experience different things. Good ideas often come when you are strolling aimlessly on a country road, or debating with your MBA students, or helping the homeless, or chatting with a cab driver, or listening to Shostakovich.
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