Highlights: Jim Bettman’s SCP Career Talk

ImageJim Bettman brought his blend of insight and humor to his career talk this morning at the Society for Consumer Psychology Doctoral Consortium. Here’s what he advised students.

His guiding principles: “P.O.I.”

Passion – “Love it or leave it.” Only do things you believe in.

Ownership – Do your own ideas, not your advisors’. Or take your advisors ideas and make them your own as his former student Mary Frances Luce did by applying emotion to Bettman, Payne, and Johnson’s established decision research.

Impact – “Go for the gold.” Aim to change the field.

Reading advice: “Make generating study ideas a focus of whatever you’re reading.”

 If you ever get the pleasure of getting a manuscript of yours reviewed by Bettman, you will find that nearly every paragraph has a comment about a potential future direction or connection to another literature. This persistent focus on generating ideas is what has allowed Bettman to be so wildly impactful. Though Bettman often appears very programatic, this should not be taken as sign of him not thinking diversely.

On what to follow up on: “Be ready for lightning bolts.”

Bettman said be open to new ideas and when you find one you are passionate about embrace it and then follow up on it. Inspiration comes first and then the programmatic process begins.

Caveat: “Not a once size fits all.” 

Bettman indicated that even though be believed in his research style, there have been many people in the field who have succeeded in following a different style of research.

Funniest quote: Good research is like “ideas having sex.”

Bettman noted that good ideas come when ideas are pieced together with other ideas, when ideas are allowed to cross-fertilizer and different combinations of idea chromosomes come together.

Second funniest quote: “When talking about how Mary Frances Luce suggested emotion be brought into decision research, “We had never discussed emotion, or been emotional.”


SCP2013: We’re listening.

This week we’ll be reporting (almost) live from the Annual Conference of the Society for Consumer Psychology in San Antonio, Texas.

Even though there will be two of us there, we won’t be able to attend every session and paper, so we’d love to hear from everyone attending the conference. We’ll be watching Twitter for good soundbites from presentations,  but you can also leave comments here or email us at indecisionblogging@gmail.com.

Things we’d like to hear about:

  • great career advice from professors and presenters 
  • outstanding research you think we really need to cover
  • interesting quotes from presentations

We’re also planning a series of posts on how to get published and we’d like to hear what you would like to ask the editors of the most important journals in our field. Drop us an email or come talk to us at the conference – we’d love to hear your ideas.

See you in San Antonio!

Elina & Troy

4 Things We Worry About At Conferences

ImageThe Society for Consumer Psychology Conference is this week. Here are four questions that we often worry about at conferences and four answers answered by quoting interviews from our Research Heroes series.

Which presentations should I go see? Should they be all in my topic of research or should I branch out? Hal Arkes recommends branching out and exploring many different topics in general, “Begin by sampling a wide cafeteria of courses, colloquia, readings, and professors.”

Should I emphasize theoretical contribution or practical application in my presentation? John Payne advises that, “As long as the criteria for tenure remain what they are at the top schools, young researchers will need to concentrate more on basic research.” This suggests you should focus on theory. However, it should be noted that nearly every Research Hero we interviewed emphasized how much they personally value practical contribution.

What if I find myself not enjoying research talks on my topic? Should I switch topics? Jonathan Baron suggests focusing on what you are passionate about. “Remember that research is a labor of love. If it doesn’t feel that way, do something else.”

When meeting with collaborators at conferences, should we decide to continue that weak project? Elke Weber suggests showing self-control and dropping it. “If something is not working out … give it a second chance, but then move on.”

Four Sins of Conference Presentations


Worried about your upcoming conference presentation? Here’s some advice paraphrased from some of the greats in our field. Try to avoid these four sins and you should be on your way to success.  If you know of any other presentation sins that make you cringe add them to comments.

#4: Saying too much

As the common adage goes, “If you say three things you’ve said nothing.” A presenter is best off if they make one clear point, especially in a short 15 minute conference presentation format.

Jim Bettman advised at the 2012 Association for Consumer Research Doctoral Consortium that when communicating research presenters should tell a consistent straightforward story. He noted that it is a simple linear story, not a mystery story and not a story with many subplots. In sum he advised: tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them it with data, and then remind them what you told them.

#3 The useless literature review

Conference presentations are about the presentation of new research, not old research. However, many presenters (especially young presenters) often are so excited by past findings they spend half their talk reciting papers from the 1980s.

Literature reviews should serve two main purposes: motivating the current research question (e.g. where are the gaps) and providing any necessary background info with which a diverse audience might not be familiar.

#2 Being too in love with methods and data analysis  

Research presentations for the most part should be presenting new theory, clarification of theory, or application of theory. However presenters are often so proud of their methodologies or data analysis that they focus more on their stimuli and statistical models than on the actual research. Remember, three-way interactions are only interesting when audiences understand their potential theoretical importance.

#1 Failing to remind audience of anything

Audience members often get distracted through thinking about an implication of the finding, zoning out from tiredness, or worrying about their own later sessions. This means audience members are not hanging onto a presenter’s every word. If a presenter explains a method, an acronym, or a hypothesis only once, the audience members may miss it.

Thus, for the important items presenters need to remind the audience a little bit. For instance, before presenting a data slide a presenter should say, “Recall that we predicted that because people high in X are more Y they should be especially vulnerable to W, however if they were remind of Z they should not be as vulnerable.”

Research Heroes: Elke Weber

We are proud to present this weeks research hero: Prof. Elke Weber, elke_weber_250the Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School and Professor of Psychology and Earth Institute Professor at Columbia University. Prof. Weber received her PhD from Harvard university and has ever since served as President for SJDM, been reviewer for the Nobel Prize in economy, received numerous awards and honors, and published immense number of high impact papers and book chapters. Prof. Weber´s research interest is in decisions under risk and environmental decisions, especially in the intersection of psychology and economics.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…
to study economics, at least in addition to psychology. The formal modeling of economics disciplines theory formulation and the shared set of assumptions and goals makes its research much more cumulative. And God knows, the field could have used someone with an interest in realistic assumptions about human judgment and choice 30 years ago.

I most admire academically… researchers like Duncan Luce, Jim March, Lin Ostrom, Howard Raiffa, Herb Simon, and Amos Tversky, who over their lifetime perfected the art of addressing important and challenging problems with elegant models and frameworks that illuminate and surprise despite, and perhaps because of, their simplicity.

The research contribution I am most proud of … is the distinction between risk perception and risk attitudes as separate determinants of risk taking.  The idea that risk is a psychological variable (perceived risk) and thus influenced by previous experience and context (giving rise to gender, age, cultural, and domain differences) and is mediated by affective processes (risk as feelings) took a while to catch on.  Getting economists to acknowledge that differences in perceived risk rather than (or in addition to) differences in risk attitude drive observed differences in risk-taking is still a work in progress, but practitioners in many areas (from financial services to medical and environmental risk communication) have strongly embraced this work and the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking (DOSPERT) scale that it generated. I am also proud of introducing the distinction between decisions from experience and decisions from description (in a collaboration with Sharoni Shafir at Ohio State, later fleshed out in a productive year that brought Ralph Hertwig and Ido Erev to Columbia), which has generated a cottage industry of new research.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… If something is not working out, either because the hypotheses are wrong or collaborator personalities are mismatched, give it a second chance, but then move on.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….was my first very experiment. The visual perception professor in whose lab I worked as an undergraduate RA let me design the study (on cyclopean vision), buy LEDs at Radio Shack and plywood and black drapes at Canadian Tire, solder up the apparatus, run the subjects, enter the data and do the statistical analyses, and help in writing up the paper. I was hooked on the scientific method from Day One and discovered that I had the data gene. The study was published in JEP:HPP without any request for revisions, an event, my professor correctly predicted, would never happen again.  I also knew by the end of the study that the questions about perception and action that I wanted to answer had to be bigger than the human eyeball and its connection to the brain.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…
My path to psychology and behavioral decision research has been circuitous. Seasickness and lack of a parental vineyard put an end to early career aspirations in Germany, marine biology and oenology, respectively. Dissatisfaction with a year of jurisprudence at the University of Heidelberg and general German intransigence brought me to the new world and to a switch in my reading, from Sigmund Freud and Marcel Proust to William James and Walt Whitman. And you already know about my cyclopean vision period!

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…
I am not big on either envy or regret, life is too short.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…
building bridges. I always imagined myself apprenticing with Santiago Calatrava and commuting between Barcelona, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. But after reading previous Research-Hero blog entries, I now know that I could just start a firm with George Loewenstein.  In some sense I have been building bridges most of my life, between cultures and between disciplines, most recently by introducing alternatives to rational expectations and expected utility maximization into the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process and into its Fifth Assessment Report.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is…
to integrate theory and insights about human judgment and choice across levels of analysis, from (epi)genetics to neurochemistry and neurophysiology, from brain activations to behavior, and from individual and group decisions to political and social processes.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career: Step back before starting any study or program of research to consider whether the question you are asking is big enough.  Don’t waste your time on incremental stuff, but find an important problem that matches your skills and interest.  Once you have found that, it also pays to persist. Acknowledgement of the value of new ideas can take a while.

Guest post: Why we should talk to the media

This week we have a guest post from Lisa Munoz, the Public Information Officer at Society for Personality and Social Psychology. She spoke at the recent SPSP conference in New Orleans on how researchers can get their message across in the media – today she tells us why she thinks that’s a worthwhile thing to do. 

A Love Letter for Public Outreach

As I write this post, it is Valentine’s Day week, one of the busiest weeks fordog-with-valentines-day-heart (1) psychology in the news. Relationships, gift-giving, sex, cultural norms, group dynamics – all provide fertile ground for popular press stories at this time of year. This media draw toward psychology may make some scientists wary as they wonder, for example, if the press will misrepresent their work just to get out a cute Valentine’s story. While the chance always exists that a reporter will distort or water down your research to “sell” a sexier or cuter story, to deny yourself the opportunity to reach a broader audience would be a huge disservice.

I can list at least a dozen good reasons to talk with the press and the public about scientific work: among them, publicizing your research to potential funding agencies and future collaborators; attracting people to your specific field of study; and raising the profile of the science. A sometimes overlooked reason for talking with the press is simply to share the excitement and joy of your research with others who have similar interests.

You study social psychology to explore questions about human behavior that have piqued your curiosity throughout your life. Undoubtedly, most of us have or will have asked ourselves some of the same questions at some point in time. It is rare to be in a profession that shares so much in common with so many people, thus putting you in the rare position to constantly teach and share.

Just this past Sunday, Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times about his relationship research – yes, taking advantage of Valentine’s Day. His work found that married couples who spent just 7 minutes at a time, 3 times a year writing about their fights from a neutral point of view were happier in their marriages. The title of the Op-Ed, “Dear Valentine, I Hate It When You …”, is cute yes but the message is far from trivial: For all couples, this research hits home, offering insight into how we can more constructively tackle relationship problems.

Reaching out to the media to share your research is an enriching experience that I hope you all will undertake throughout your careers.

Lisa M.P. Munoz, Public Information Officer, SPSP

spsp.publicaffairs@gmail.com | @SPSPnews

Research Heroes: Jonathan Baron

Next in our series of Research Heroes is Jonathan Baron, baronProfessor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. Professor Baron received his PhD in Experimental Psychology from University of Michigan 1970. His current focus is on moral decision making, especially in public policy. Except for his research, he is well known from his excellent work as Webmaster at Society of Decision Making. He is also the starter and editor of Judgment and Decision Making, the first open access journal in Judgment and decision making 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career …..When I applied to graduate school, my first choice was Michigan. In my application I said I wanted to work with James Olds, and I sketched a project I wanted to do (which Randy Gallistel subsequently did, without any help from me), concerning the lateral hypothalamus of the rat. When I was admitted, I assumed that this meant that Olds was willing to have me as an advisee. Nope. So I wish someone told me, “Ask.” In the end it all worked out, because I switched to experimental psychology.

I most admire…..This is hard, and I will not give names of living people, lest someone be offended at not being listed. I tend to admire philosophers and people who write in that tradition, because they strive for depth and clarity, and some of them write really well. Richard Hare is one example. I also admire people who “did their own thing”, even if it was unconventional or politically incorrect and did not bring them fame or fortune, such as Howard Margolis, Lee Brooks, and Richard Herrnstein (who did achieve some notoriety).

The best research project I have worked on during my career was…..Some useful projects were complete failures but sources of education for me. Of the ones that led anywhere, one is my work at the Benchmark School with Irene Gaskins, on teaching students to think better. This was a part of the inspiration for my first book, “Rationality and intelligence”, which argued that rational thinking was both learnable and part of intelligence itself, something I still believe. Another project, which I thought was a very risky enterprise at the time, was to extend the heuristics-and-biases framework to moral judgment, which led to two papers: Spranca, Minsk and Baron (1991) and Ritov and Baron (1990), followed soon by Baron and Ritov (1993) and Baron (1994). I see this as my main contribution to JDM.

The worst research project……My attempt to find the lateral hypothalamus of the rat in my first year of graduate school, in Steve Glickman’s lab. Not his fault. He was very nice to me. I was a klutz. Good thing I did not become a surgeon.

The most memorable experience I had doing research was…..From the preface to Weber, Baron, and Loomes (2001): “… Jane [Beattie] was a wonderful collaborator. … I also think that she had extrasensory perception. For one of our papers, the reviewers asked us to check the inter-rater reliability of some coding that we had done on subjects’ justifications. So I selected 20 cases at random, coded them and sent them to her by email. I was hoping for 70% agreement, as I felt that I had very little confidence in my own coding. A day later, her codes came back, and agreement was 100%.”

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I’ve always managed to find a chance. The ones that I haven’t told are even less interesting.

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it… Can’t think of anything. I did many more studies than what I have had time to write up.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… Not a surgeon. Maybe a government-employed researcher, or a philosophy professor, or a composer of modern music like Steve Reich (if I had started doing music seriously at age 4 instead of 14 – but we are already deeply into counterfactuals).

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is… To retain an independent identity, so that JDM does not get swallowed up by social psychology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral economics, marketing, and/or decision neuroscience. Otherwise I think there are lots of little challenges.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…
A. Remember that research is a labor of love. If it doesn’t feel that way, do something else. There are many other ways for smart people to do something useful and make a living. You should not need self-discipline to get research done. You should need it to stop working on research so that you can meet other demands.
B. Pursue truth, enlightenment, and/or the common good. Attempts to be strategic, to pursue what is popular at the moment because it will get you to the next level, are no more likely to lead to tangible success than following your own reflective judgment of what you ought to be doing.
C. Learn R, Linux, LaTeX, Emacs, and/or other computer tools like them. Learn psychometric theory, Bayesian statistics, and/or some other useful advanced statistical approaches. Researchers at all levels vastly under-invest in the development of skills for programming and data analysis. This investment will pay off over time, and you cannot depend anymore on being able to hire people to do these things for you (especially if you are unable to pay them more than you make yourself).
D. Our field is not that far from philosophy. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s fun.

Research Heroes: John W. Payne

medium_fs_jpayneStarting off the second month of Research Heroes interviews is  John W. Payne, the Joseph J. Ruvane, Jr. Professor of Business Administration and Deputy Dean at Duke University, Fuqua School of Business. He received his PhD from University of California in 1973, followed by stints at Carnegie-Mellon University and University of Chicago, before joining the faculty at Duke in 1977. Like many of our Research Heroes, he’s also a past president of the Society of Judgment and Decision Making. With research interests ranging from risky choice behavior, consumer choice, juries and punitive damage awards to retirement planning and environmental decisions, he has authored or co-authored almost a hundred papers as well as The Adaptive Decision Maker and most recently a chapter in the Handbook of Process Tracing Methods in Decision Making.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career how much fun research can be. I knew I liked doing research as student but I didn’t know that I would still enjoy it so much more than 40 years later. As a faculty member you have a LOT of demands on your scarce time. And research more than any other demand is one where the extrinsic rewards are often delayed for years, e.g., publications. However, if you find research fun you will always find the time to do it now.

I most admire Paul Slovic. Our field is blessed with a lot of nice people. However, Paul is an unbelievably nice person. I first met him as an undergraduate student thinking about decision making as a topic of study. Paul and Sarah Lichtenstein took the time to meet with me, send me papers, and encourage me to continue to work in the field. I owe my career to his early encouragement. He serves as a role model to me of mentorship in any field. The other thing I most admire about Paul is the continued excellence of his scholarship. Doing one or two impactful pieces of work is hard enough. For a person to do one important paper after another important paper for decades is the truest measure of an outstanding scholar.

The best research project I have worked on during my career was with Jim Bettman and Eric Johnson that culminated in our book entitled The Adaptive Decision Maker. For reasons that I am not sure I fully understand we made a great team. We certainly did not always agree but we enjoyed working together, and we had complimentary skills and interests. I also really liked the fact that the project combined modeling and experimental work using relatively new, at the time, modeling tools like computer simulation and the elementary information processes idea borrowed from Newell and Simon along with process tracing methods. Finally, the project extended over a decade and there was a sense of accumulative knowledge being gained. I have always enjoyed research that goes beyond just one or two papers but seems to build over an extended period of time.

The worst research project isn’t really a case of a project that I worked on but a project I should have spent more time on. That is, my regret is for something I didn’t do more than regret for something I did do. In 1982 Joel Huber, Chris Puto, and I published a paper showing what we called the “Asymmetric Dominance Effect” on choice. (Another regret of mine is that I have generally been terrible at naming effects.) The paper was one of the first showing the importance of context (choice menus) on choice. While I certainly cannot complain about the attention that the Huber, Payne, and Puto paper has gotten over the years, I do wish I personally had followed up on that paper much more than I have. Fortunately for our field others have been much better continuing the work on context-dependent preferences.

The most memorable experience I had doing research was a lunch not long after I moved to Duke in the late 1970s. Tom Wallsten (then at UNC) had organized a small conference on decision making at a little conference center north of Durham. During the lunch break at that conference I found myself setting at a small table with Amos Tversky, Danny Kahneman, and Hilly Einhorn. Needless-to-say, I mostly listened. The conversation was amazing. One issue talked about was the importance of coherence as a standard for judgment and choice. Amos was being more of an economist in that he was defending the importance of coherence from a normative perspective. On the other hand, I still remember Danny expressing the opinion that he wanted to reserve the right to both love and hate his mother-in-law at the same time. Was there ever a clearer statement about the value of two systems of thought? It also became clear to me that great research partnerships do not require perfect alignment of beliefs. In fact, differences might help.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be a cook. My father was a short-order cook during part of his life and I remember the satisfaction he had at preparing meals for people. I have never been paid to cook but I have done a lot of cooking over the years. And unlike research, cooking food for others can have much more immediate positive feedback. I haven’t always been sure about the value of one of my papers. I have always been sure about the value of my lasagna. The other career that has always attracted me is being a historian. So, if I was not a professor of business and psychology I would like to be a professor of history.

One of the biggest challenges for our field in the next 10 years is taking what we now know, and will learn, about how people make judgments and choices and using that knowledge to help people make better decisions. We are certainly doing some of this application of knowledge today. The great book by Thaler and Sunstein (Nudge) provides a number of examples. However, I think we need to continue to translate our knowledge of how people do make decisions into prescriptions for how people can make better decisions. For those of us who are a bit further along in our careers this should be a challenge that we accept. For young researchers I would be more cautious in advising that they become more “applied.” As long as the criteria for tenure remain what they are at the top schools, young researchers will need to concentrate more on basic research.

The other challenge for our field is what George Loewenstein mentioned: we need to dig some new theoretical foundations. These new foundations may be no more, and no less, than really understanding the interplay between System 1 and System 2 thinking or the interplay between cognition and emotion. However, I suspect, and hope, that even newer ideas will be developed.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is to be programmatic. Find a problem area that you are excited about, and think is important, and plan on doing multiple studies within that problem area. While a hit here and a hit there in terms of publications can establish a reputation I think a career is best made by a more programmatic approach.

Next, in the spirit of value to some differences in perspectives, I would disagree with the advice offered by my good friend Dick Thaler, spend time reading the literature, and go back more than just the past 5-10 years. The best programs of research will be built on not only your prior work but on work of others. I certainly feel like everything I have done builds upon the pioneering work of others including Einhorn, Kahneman, Simon, Slovic, and Tversky. This does not mean doing small variations of prior studies. It does mean using a knowledge of the literature to better know what will be important to learn, and how to best position what you have learned when it comes time to publish.

Finally, enjoy your research! Being able to do research on decision behavior should be fun.

Departmental website | TED talk

Flying start for InDecision

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been quite a month for InDecision.

Four weeks ago we published the first interview of Hal Arkes, followed by George Loewenstein, Richard Thaler and Chris Hsee. We were already thrilled with the hundreds of people who took an interest in the first two interviews (not to mention Wall Street Journal taking a shine to George Loewenstein’s interview!), but week three… things went a little bit crazy. 

10k coverage

In 48h, we had over 5000 views of the blog, after several popular tweeters such as Nudge Blog promoted it and it was picked up by the economics blog Marginal Revolution (sparking a lively debate) as well as the World Bank blog.  Some disagreed with Thaler, most notably Eric Falkenberg in Business Insider who felt he was giving bad advice – thankfully, not everyone felt the same

indecision blog stats 1st month

Well, it’s a good start for such a young blog – long may it continue! There’s also been some interest in republishing some of the interviews on various other blogs – such interest in our field is great news indeed. All in all, we’ve had over 9000 views of the blog and a bit over 5000 visitors in the first month which is absolutely fantastic. In February, we’ll have more great interviews from John Payne, Jon Baron, Elke Weber and a couple of surprise guests – watch this space.