About TroyHCampbell

Duke Marketing Ph.D Student

Viewpoint: Why you should join an academic gang

academic gang

By InDecision Blog reporter and regular editorial contributor Troy Campbell

Question: How Do You Succeed in Academia?

To answer this all important question, let us start not with the truth, but with a myth. It is a myth that misguides so many students, and it is …

The Lonely Genius Myth

ron-burgundy-anchorman

There is a myth in our field and that myth is “the lonely genius.”

The lonely genius is the researcher with the exact right research style, who reads narrowly but broadly, writes at least 90 minutes a day, balances work and exercise, is always strategic, knows exactly how to target journals, and above all else, does it alone. The myth goes: we should all strive to be just like the lonely genius and any deviation from this standard is wrong.

The Truth of the Lonely Genius

glass-case-of-emotionBeing lonely sucks and it is not productive.

The Hidden Real Answer

anchorman-2-002

The real answer of how do you make it in academia, the source of the most variance in academic success, the holy grail of academic advice, is not a research style, and it is also not a certain work ethic, and it is certainly not that you should do it all alone.

The real answer is:  Academics succeed with the help and support of others.

People succeed in academia because they make friendships and connections with faculty, peers, and even research assistants. This is not “networking” but true “deep connections” where each partner cares about the success of the other and provides intellectual and emotional support.

In academia, you need to be tough, but you can’t be a lone wolf. Even the toughest of wolves usually can’t compete without a pack.

Recently, the importance of “others” has been greatly expressed at doctoral consortiums in the social sciences. Columbia University Professor Leonard Lee spoke about the role of senior faculty support for young faculty. University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Meg Campbell further argues this sentiment, stating that we too often neglect extended support networks. A recent study finds that even the most successful athletes are quick to mention the role of social support networks in their hall of fame induction speeches. And yes, even the great Anchorman Ron Burgundy admitted that he needed his news team.

On this website alone, we’ve documented many of the hidden ways colleaguesstudent peers, and mentors can benefit young academics.

The Method to the Madness

So if others are the answer, how can we starting succeeding with others?

#1 Never “Front”

front b

Professor Joey Hoegg of the University of British Columbia explains that in her first semester as a new professor she pretended that everything was going well with her research. Eventually, it became so obvious to a senior faculty member at the school that this was not the case. He kindly took it upon himself to mentor her and everything turned around.

No matter where we are in the process to tenure, many of those with tenure are here to help. Hoegg wasted months of her career because she was “fronting” with the very people who wanted to help her the most. Not everyone in academia wants to help you, but many do. So let those people help you.  

#2 Join a Gang

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 10.35.00 AM

Look at any successful professor. What do they have in common? As Northwestern University Profess Derek Rucker’s slyly expressed through a staged doctoral consortium: almost nothing. Some people are terrible at stats, writing, experimental design or public speaking but still make it.

The one similarity is they all join gangs, which is the best method to using the power of “others.”

These academics run with a crew that consistently publishes together or at least meets together. Sometimes a gang centers around a topic. Other times, it is just about a group of people who keep publishing together on many topics. Sometimes it’s a department, sometimes it’s a lab, sometimes it’s a cross-continental Skype-based collaboration, or sometimes it’s a larger field spanning movement (e.g. consider the recent movements and then sub movements in political psychology as different gangs).

To win this game (or war) of academia, you have to join a gang. This is the gang you see at every conference not just to catch up with but to push forward ideas with, who think like you and want to think about the same things. Professor Peter McGraw has noted that he never hung out with professors at conferences, he just made friends with peers who then become great colleagues. And Professor Dan Ariely notes that most of his collaborations started with friendship. Quality relationships make quality use of the power of others.

#3 Ask

ask

So how does one join a gang or get help?

Ask. It may be the most cliché answer, but it is the right answer.

To get help and start research collaborations, you have to ask. Ask for your advisor to bring in other people on a project so you can start entering the larger world. Let the faculty know your struggles and let your friends or conference acquaintances know you’d love to talk about research. Go to all the sessions on a single topic and don’t just sit, but engage with people. Professor Fleura Bardhi also advises getting involved with your local community as another way to jumpstart your involvement.

Remember the first step to doing things not alone, is to show up to the party so very alone. You have to make the initiative, not just receive or rely on your advisors to “hook you in.” You will never make friends if you don’t show up to the party, ready to discuss.

The All-Important We

happy team

We succeed in academia when we can turn the question what should I do? into what should we do?

So find others, join a gang, and then you can start slaying it as a researcher. Whatever metaphor you like, a gang metaphor, a wolf pack metaphor, a Fellowship of the Ring metaphor, or an economy of scale metaphor; they are all true.

People spend so much time thinking about what to research and how to research it, but not enough time thinking about who to research with. Figuring out the latter almost always helps with the former.

How to advance science and look good in a talk

Many conference presentations have become more about impressing the audience than advancing science. While presenters should, of course, strive to be engaging, impressive, and proud of their work, they should also be more open about their limitations and not view their project as a lone watershed moment in science but as a piece in an ever-advancing timeline of inquiry. Here are some ways to have presentation that will not just look good but will also be good for the scientific enterprise.

#1 Have a true and guided discussion of the limitations.

Let’s be honest: there’s probably no chance that you’ve tested your theory in the absolute best way possible – funding and constraints almost always prevent this.

There’s also little chance that you’ve removed 100% of the potential confounds. If you have any doubts about this, just submit your manuscript to any journal club and the feedback you will receive will make it abundantly clear that there are at least six thousands potential confounds. Psychological research is imperfect—and as Anna Kirmani and Michelle Pham have recently argued, it is important we realize this.

So what does this mean for your conference presentations?

It means you need to take control over the discussion of your limitations. Maybe you are worried about a hidden ceiling effect in the Likert measure or an undetected mood effect; mention those things. Further, tell us how we as a field could better test your theory. Maybe it is with larger more diverse samples or maybe it is with different dependent variables.

#2 Have a true and guided discussion of the relevance of your findings.

When the first choice overload studies came out, the authors made it seem that lots of choice was almost always bad. Turns out that although choice overload does exist, the original idea as the author of The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz explains was overstated.

Instead of looking back at how awesome their choice overload work was, in their original presentations and papers the choice researchers should have looked forward and said to their audiences, here’s how we can test the breadth of this choice overload work. Rather than assume its ubiquity for a few studies, they should have been more humble.

Recently, my colleagues and I have tried to use a humble approach by starting many presentations with the statement: “Today our only goal is to have you leave here thinking: ‘Hey, this phenomenon happens sometimes, isn’t that interesting, and shouldn’t we explore it more?’”

#3 Don’t be a theoretical imperialist and always remember the motto: “Death to Dichotomy”

Many researchers seem to feel the need to explain why their theory explains everything. This can make one can look very good and lead to a type of prominence in one’s field and the popular press. Yet, rarely is one perspective as completely explanatory as it seems.

For instance in the field of motivated cognition, people often have dichotomous debates between the existence of a motivation explanation (e.g. self-deception) versus a completely non-motivational explanation (e.g. informational differences, self-presentation bias). Scientists often try to explain lab and complex real world phenomena within one psychological theory with nearly unqualified general claims.

This leads to a theory versus theory approach. It forms a “dichotomous” view of reality when as Michelle Pham argues, this is often far from the truth. The majority of the most interesting phenomena in real life are determined by multiple factors. For example, in the case of motivated cognition, there is a synthesis of factors in self-deception that can occur due to concerns over self-presentation.

Dichotomous type of thinking does not lead to our goal of optimally advancing science. Instead of pitting psychological mechanisms against each other in absolute terms, we should develop models that allow for a multiple psychological mechanisms. We should not ask does X mechanism explain this phenomenon better than Y mechanism? Instead we should ask, when do X and Y matter most when consider phenomenon Z?

A final consideration: Does all this humble limitation focus actually improve your presentation and make you look better?

As a young scholar, I am always so saddened when I attend talks by famous scholars or rising stars in academia only to see that they are biased toward the prominence of their theories. Their self-aggrandizing style can hurt them at least in some people’s eyes. Scientists appreciate when other scientists act like humble scientists, and yes – that is only a “usually,” not an “always,” but still, it’s worth playing the percentages.

We need to stop focusing on looking good and we to need to start focusing on doing what’s good for science. Arguably, doing the things that are good for science can also make you look good.

Viewpoints: “Becoming a Professor” Podcasts

On InDecision Blog we write a lot about how be the “ideal candidate” featuring the “ideal advice.”  While advice is great, there’s something special about hearing first hand about the intimate struggles and personal journeys people had that can enlighten both those in and outside of academia.

As The Professor Job Market season dawns this year, we wanted to share four unique stories about four young scholar’s recent journeys on the job market. If you’ve ever wanted an honest behind the scenes look, this is it: four young scholars explain their non-traditional paths with frank honesty and in personally revealing ways. These podcasts will give you an opportunity to connect with their stories and hear their views on research and life outside it. You’ll also get the perspective of people who chose not to take the “top 20” school path – a perspective we have not covered as despite the fact that majority of the field does not resides in the top 20 schools.

These short podcasts are hosted by InDecision contributor Troy Campbell who is starting a series of InDecision podcasts aimed to get at both the professional and personal side of research. Note the conversations are with people who got placements in business schools – particularly marketing. If you are a nonacademic we put the podcast in order “general topical appeal.” All podcasts can be downloaded to be listened to offline (e.g. during a work out).

Jim Mourey
Being a presenter, being true to yourself, quality of life, and personally valuing teaching.
Ph.D: University of Michigan
Professorship: DePaul University
Rob Smith
Choosing not to go the top schools, quality of life, importance of teaching.
Ph.D: University of Michigan
Professorship: Ohio State
Caroline Roux
Choosing a different path: policy research and being a different type of scholar.
PhD: Northwestern
Professorship: Concordia University, Canada
Adrian Camilleri
Being interdisciplinary, reflecting on your Identity, dealing with Marketing Interviews.
Post Doc: Duke University
Professorship: RMIT University, Australia
Coming soon.

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troy-resizedYour podcast host Troy Campbell is a Ph.D student at Duke University and hopeful on the Job Market this year. For some of his viewpoints and his always animated Indecision Blog reporting, click here.

Viewpoint: Life as an Assistant Professor

joebwWe recently had a chat with Joseph Redden about his happy life as an assistant professor. From this conversation, we found out that Professor Redden had a lot answers to some of the questions that stressed out graduate students often have about being a young professor so we asked him to do a Q&A with a representative stressed out graduate student.

So far, we’ve been interviewing the established greats and focused a lot on life after tenure. But as a blog dedicated in part to helping young researchers find their way, we thought it would be good to have some more posts about your most immediate concerns and fears. So here’s Joseph Redden with some guidance and comfort in the first of many soon to come InDecision Blog posts on the two topics that on all young researchers minds: the job market and being a quality young faculty member. Joseph Redden is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and he is an emerging expert on the topic of satiation.


Hi Joe, I am a stressed out student in graduate school – or actually I’m not just stressed but also worried and afraid. I am worried that my impostor syndrome is not just a syndrome but real: I look at the top people on the job market recently and I just feel inadequate. I look at the greats in our field and their theoretical might and publishing powerhouse make me feel like I’ll never make in the field, and even if I can get a few publications I am worried my work won’t matter. So if you don’t mind, I have a bunch of questions... 

SOS: How stressed are you? Do you have free time?

Professor Redden: Like any academic or human for that matter, I feel like my life has plenty of stress. That being said, I do find that my stress seems to diminish a bit every year. I like to think that is not just adaptation, but rather a reflection of my active efforts to manage stress in two ways. First, I’ve focused my time more on problems that really pique my interest and leverage my areas of expertise. Second, I make sure some of the time “savings” I get from being more productive translates into free time for me to enjoy. I personally find this last point the most attractive aspect of an academic life.

SOS: What’s daily life like for you?

Professor Redden: Like any other academic, there is not really a protypical day. Some days are mostly teaching, others mostly writing, some mostly reading while others might be service. Even so, I really try to keep a regular schedule (a 9-to-5 if you will) to avoid burnout. If you don’t do this I think it’s very easy to burn yourself out because there is always more we could do on every research project or teaching topic. I find it helpful to set a goal for what I want to get done in a week. If I happen to get lucky and get things done quickly, then I might leave early. If instead things take quite a bit longer, then that becomes a longer week (and possibly weekend). Over time, I’ve found that I’ve become much better calibrated at setting what is reasonable for a week.

SOS: Do you ever have fun?

Professor Redden: Of course. Otherwise, what is the point? In fact, I explicitly carve out time for fun. As an example, I often teach on Wednesdays until noon and then often go catch an early movie. Interestingly, I have found this increases my productivity as I come back Thursday morning refreshed and ready to work. I think everyone should carve out some of these hobbies to take advantage of the flexibility academia offers. For me, this is movies, tennis leagues, my kids’ sports teams, etc.

SOS: How do you manage your choice of projects?

Professor Redden: That is a great question. I found that early in my career I tended to work on anything I found interesting. This led me to jump from project to project chasing after the “shiny new object”. You can imagine how this hampered my productivity. I now try to decide what enters my portfolio in three stages. First, I make sure that any new idea leverages an area of my expertise. I want to avoid one-off projects that require me to learn an entirely new literature each time. Second, I go ahead and write a potential contribution paragraph to flush out whether this idea could be in an A-journal. The worst outcome is for an idea to work perfectly yet have no chance to be published. Third, I try to run a quick study to see if the idea seems promising at all. If it works, I try to quickly replicate it so I’ll know I have something real. If it fails at first, I’ll give it one more shot if I think the idea is super promising. If it works at first and fails on the replication, then I’ll often give it one more go as a sort of tiebreaker. I’ve found this approach has really helped me weed out effects that will be difficult to establish and understand.

SOS: What do I really need to do to get tenure in this field?

Professor Redden: The answer to this question is both ambiguous and varied across schools. At my university, the guidance is centered on achieving distinction in your field. Of course, this could mean something very different for everyone. Personally, I tried to make sure that two things would hold true. First, that there was a topic (satiation in my case) such that I would be one of the first few names mentioned if one asked who was doing research in that area. Second, that it worked the other way such that when asked what I researched people would have a consistent answer. I think if both of those are true then you will have achieved distinction in your field.  

SOS: How do you choose collaborators?

Professor Redden: A great deal of this is serendipity so I’m not sure there is a conscious effort to “choose” collaborators. I can say that the collaborators I want are those that share my interests, possess complementary skills, and make research fun. I’d say the last one, having fun, is by far the most important.

SOS:  I am worried that only the Thaler’s and Loewensteins of the world will make a difference. I know now that I’ll never be them, so I am thinking, what’s the point, what will I really do for this field?

Professor Redden: It matters how you define making a difference. If you consider yourself a success only if you make a difference for an entire field, then that is a really high standard for nearly anyone. I like to think of making a difference at a more micro level. Think about how your presentation at a conference may affect how a listener writes their paper, how a conservation may lead a doctoral student to their thesis idea, how teaching a topic may spark a student’s interest, how seemingly minor coverage of a paper may affect a marketer at a company (and hence millions of people). I believe that many of these unknown differences are happening — as long as we work on interesting problems.

If you have any questions for future interviews, let us know at indecisionblogging@gmail.com

Interview by Troy Campbell

Viewpoint: A Great Research Paper Explains A Lot, Not Everything

ImageRecently Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota and colleagues published a paper on rituals and we think it is a fantastic model for how to write a paper. We think this paper solves a lot of issues that have been discussed by the professors and writers here at InDecision about how to write and present research. Particularly it avoids certain research “sins”.

In case you are in a rush, or too busy with important ideas or data analyses to read this entire blog post (and even more so the article), or whether you’d just rather go look at cat memes on Tumblr, below is a short version of this post, followed by a longer form post.

Short Version

The Problem: Michel Pham and others have declared that one of the biggest research “sins” is to propose that a single phenomenon has a single process. This “full mediation quest,” as it is sometimes known, can often lead to research that lacks practical relevance, any external validity, and at worst misrepresents reality.

The Solution: Vohs and colleagues’ paper on rituals studies an important issue, with strong external validity, and identifies the existence of a psychological phenomenon. They then provide strong evidence for a psychological process, but do not claim to have found an exclusive micro process for the phenomenon. In the general discussion (pages 14-17 of this link), the authors discuss how the phenomenon is most likely multiply determined – something Michel Pham in his excellent 7 sins InDecision Blog post argues we need to embrace more. In the end, Vohs and colleagues are able to provide that prized “theoretical contribution” of a psychological process without committing the specific research “sin” of over claiming that the phenomenon is just one process.

Of course, you can assert that sometimes we need more nitty gritty larger research than this. We’ve got no argument with you there and we doubt Vohs would either – in fact, you can see other Vohs papers for example of “bigger” theories. It should go without saying that all research can’t be short Psychological Science reports like this one but we think there is a great lesson to be learned from the approach of this one paper (in addition to the quality scientific contribution) and that lesson is that, whenever possible, researchers should be open about multiply determined phenomenon and not seduced by the “full mediation” quest.

Long Version

Alright, so what exactly is going on in this ritual paper?

In the paper, “four experiments tested the novel hypothesis that ritualistic behavior potentiates and enhances the enjoyment of ensuing consumption – an effect found for chocolates, lemonade, and even carrots.” It identifies two processes that explain why rituals that provide no objective change to the consumption item itself, such as making the same pattern of hand gestures before consuming the item, affect consumption enjoyment. Particularly they find “a delay between a ritual and the opportunity to consume heightens enjoyment, which attests to the idea that ritual behavior stimulates goal-directed action to consume.” Further, they find rituals increase involvement in the experience.

As the paper continues it takes a real phenomenon (rituals), establishes that something psychological is going on, and then provides some enlightenment about what that is. In addition, it provides managers with an intervention idea (e.g. put time between the ritual and the consumption). However, what truly won us over was the discussion section where the authors note that, “ritualized behavior likely encompasses several mechanisms” such as preparatory mindsets, symbolic meanings, social implications, palliative functions, and lay beliefs. Some researchers might see this “multiple mechanisms” account as weak and so these researchers might meagerly attempt to hand wave away alternative mechanisms, in order to protect their precious “full mediation theoretical contribution.” Rather than reject the complications, Vohs and colleagues embrace them.

If you have ever heard a researcher talk about the endowment effect and try to claim that the entire endowment effect is simply one process, you know the problem we are alluding to. When researchers seek to claim phenomena are driven by just one thing for the most part they are wrong: science should be about nuance and openness, and this paper embraces that mindset.

Final Thoughts

With papers like this one (and there are tons of others out there, feel free to link some in the comments section), we can see that one does not need to boldly force a massive theoretical contribution and defend a single process against all others with the insecurity of a teenager and the ferocity of a honey badger. Instead one can approach things powerfully and humbly as Vohs and colleagues did, embracing the modern research movement where a single paper does not need to explain everything as long as it provides a quality contribution.

Troy Campbell is a Ph.D Student at Duke University. To read more InDecision posts from Troy click here. You can also visit his occasionally-updated personal blog People Science where Troy writes about everything from scientific methodologies to Batman.

And if that post was not enough for you, you can check out a related discussion that is even longer in this 2010 academic paper by Zhao, Lynch, and Chen. The paper examines the strengths of mediation analysis as well as the problem of full mediation and the problem of the mediation-as-theory assumption. 

Derek Rucker – Shaky Camera Interview on Doctoral Consortiums

We caught up with Professor Derek Rucker and brought our classic shaky camera to get a quick interview on his perspective about what a graduate student should get out of a doctoral consortium and academic conferences in general. Watch it, it’s like 90 seconds.

Viewpoint: How Scientists Can Get the Media’s Attention

ImageThe New York Times best selling author and journalist Chris Mooney has made a career out of bringing science into the mainstream. His articles, such as The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science, go extremely viral.

In a time when the Internet allows science to find the eyeballs of non-scientists like never before, a researcher wants his or her research to land on the desk of a journalist like Mooney. But how can you make that happen?

Mooney recently spoke to an audience from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology about how researchers can turn their academic headlines into news headlines. Here’s a couple of his major tips and some commentary.

Caveat: In this post, we are side stepping the question of “should scientists actually want their research to be in the media?” We generally think the answer to this question is yes. However, there are many nuances that make this a complicated issue and we will return those issues in future posts. 

Mooney Tip #1: “There’s nothing like a good figure – something people can quickly grasp and understand.”

Mooney explains the idea that simple graphs do really well online. For instance, take a look at this recent graph in a psychological article on “internet trolling” that helped propel this article to mega viral status. The headline: “Internet trolls really are horrible people – Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism.”

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Researchers need to make attractive graphs that can be exported into an article (or any one researcher’s power-point slides for that matter) without any changes. And by graphs, Mooney means graphs not tables. He jokes that, “Journalists need graphics from you or you run the risk they’ll make the graphics themselves.” So if you want to be viral and protect the purity of your science in the public eye, put some graphs in that article. Just because you and ten of your colleagues can understand a 10 column x 12 row table in the blink of an eye, does not mean the public and even scientific journalists can.

Mooney Tip #2: “Turn a correlation into a percent.”

Graphs can make things go viral but so can a good statistic. Mooney explains that readers and journalists don’t think in correlations, but rather in quantities like percentages. People can be moved by startling statistics like “a 25% increase in health” or “40% increase in reported enjoyment” – these items are concrete and tangible.

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Mooney Tip #3: “Put your studies in context with other studies.”

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Illustration: Jonathon Rosen

Journalists often practice “weight of the evidence” when deciding what scientific pieces to write about. Many will be unwilling to publish findings that are too far off from the majority of the scientific field. Thus, when positioning one’s finding to a journalist in an email or press release, it is important to demonstrate how the finding is largely supported by other research. Also, journalists need to know whether a finding should be presented as brand new or providing evidence for an existing theory. It’s very difficult for journalists to figure this out themselves. Hell – that can be difficult for even for us as scientists! Though there may be a few journalists out there that will run any headline, most journalists are interested in getting the facts straight, so scientists need to help them with that.

Mooney Tip #4: “I need to know when your study is coming out and I need to know first.”

Journalism is a competitive business and breaking a story is one of the biggest competitions in the game. Mooney recommends contacting journalists ahead of time. Many news articles have editors who can easily be contacted.

For instance Scientific American says at the conclusion of many of their articles:

“Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, […] at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.”

Mooney Tip #5: “Add Value.”

ImageIf a young researcher wants to develop a web presence, Mooney’s recommendation is to become a trusted brand that consistently provides a certain type of value.  Readers must learn that they can rely on your blog/website/content stream for a specific and continuous content.

I asked Mooney about how this is sort of anti-academic. Many of us like to do many things. We like to jump around and move on to new things, whether that’s deeper into one theory or bouncing between theories. We don’t like making the same points over and over again, and we always are preoccupied with the new and the cutting edge.

Mooney told me how he sometimes feels the same: after promoting his first book, he quickly got tired of talking about the same thing over and over again. But he has learned through his career that if you want your stuff to matter, you have to repeat yourself over and over again – that’s part of this job. Just look at how often Daniel Kahneman talks to the public about imperfect rationality and heuristic judgments! He has been doing it for his entire career and that continued presence and quality message has made him famous and unquestionably changes policy and the world.

For two great examples of young scientists who have developed platforms that people consistently come back to for information check out:

PsychYourMind.com – a place where a crew of graduate students talk about stuff in all the best manners suited for the Internet.

Very Bad Wizards Podcast  – A podcast and a tumblr about psychology and philosophy. We recommend this one with an “explicit warning.” Seriously, they talk about academics, but this isn’t like the Freakonomics podcast you listen to in your car with your conservative father.

Twitter also has quite a few examples of young scientists in our field who have built up bases of thousands of followers without yet being famous for their own research. Why? Because they are good at daily or very frequently posting quality links.

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Chris Mooney’s personal webpage and his amazon author page.

Troy Campbell’s personal webpage.

Viewpoint: Never Say “Isn’t That Just Cognitive Dissonance?”

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 9.39.33 AMAfter a talk at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 2014 conference in Austin, I found myself leaving Ballroom C when I heard someone utter to a colleague one of my least favorite phrases: “Isn’t that just cognitive dissonance?”

I wanted to shout at them, “You just went to a session on the application and extension of cognitive dissonance. Of course it was ‘cognitive dissonance,’ but it was insightful and useful.”

I did not, of course, say such things then. But now here I am on the Internet doing what I should have done outside Ballroom C.

But before I channel the wisdom expressed by the professors and practitioners who’ve been interviewed here on Indecision Blog, let’s back up for a second and set the scene.

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ballroom c

Deborah Hall of Arizona State University started a Friday afternoon presentation in Ballroom C by talking about how, in the 2012 Republican National Convention, Paul Ryan stated, “My playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin.”

Hall then argued this moment made many liberals uncomfortable. Why? Because liberals found themselves feeling similar to a conservative.

In a series of experiments, Hall and colleague Wendy Wood showed that pa
Studies like these illustrate and bring a sense of clarity to the partisan problem (and also extend group psychology in general). Yet, after hearing Hall’s presentation, one might think that, “Of course this is true, Festinger’s 1957 book predicts it.” However, before hearing these findings, one might also assume the opposite. One might might assume that accentuating basic similarities would easily “transcend party lines.”rtisans feel “dissonance affect” when they felt similar to members of the other political party. The researchers concluded that their findings “demonstrate that similarity to the negative reference standard provided by outgroups can elicit the feelings of psychological threat that accompany cognitive dissonance, highlighting a dilemma faced by politicians who seek to appeal to voters by accentuating basic similarities that transcend party lines.”

Many people walk away from SPSP talks like this one with questions like “Didn’t we already know that?” or the dismissive phrase “Isn’t that just cognitive dissonance?” In an interview with Indecision Blog, Harvard Professor Michael Norton explains why this dismissive attitude is the wrong attitude, and academics should instead adopt a rather more positive constructive attitude.

Similarly, Cornell Professor David Pizarro laments that a senior colleague told him not to pursue a project because, “Either way the results ended up, both theoretical conclusions would be obvious.” To which he responded, “Then is there not value in knowing which one is actually correct?”

Researchers often fail to see the value in clever research projects that test two competing hypotheses. Often they seem to prospectively be against research that will lead readers to fall victim to a “knew-it-all-along” hindsight bias.

On a similar note, Freakonomics author and economist Steven Levitt argues, “The sign of genius is the ability to see things that are completely obvious but to which everyone else is blind.” While there are definitely other signs of genius, our field tends to dismiss this kind of “genius.” And, unfortunately, it is genius of this kind that is A) often the most important to dealing with real world problems and B) fundamentally important to developing rich vast theoretical models of nuanced behavior.

Let’s retire the phrase “Isn’t this just cognitive dissonance?” and, more importantly, the harmful attitude that surrounds it.

Viewpoint: 6 Things a Conference Can Do For You

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 4.41.12 PM

There’s so many things about conferences that can fill you with hope, re-energize and recharge you as well as rebuild your confidence. Here are six things that academic conferences can help you with.

#1 Realizing that the tough love was worth it

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Let’s be honest, no matter how cool your advisors and professors are (and personally I have some ridiculously cool ones), sometimes you just feel like you can’t take anymore of their criticism.

They are just so very very critical. They wear you down and force you to reconsider everything. They question you, they question you, and then for a change of a pace they question you some more. Grad school can start to become a tunnel shaped like your advisor’s office with no light in sight.

But then you present at a conference. And the audience claps. And they clap not just politely, but with genuine enthusiasm. And all that pain now seems justified. And all of a sudden you feel a rush of thankfulness for your advisors and resist the urge to text them to tell your success and sappy thankfulness. You see another presentation and you see that student’s advisor was just “too nice” to them and now the student is a sitting duck in the Q&A.

Conferences remind you that all that “tough love” your advisors give you is really out of “love” not just “tough.”

#2 Reminding you that you do have interesting ideas

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 4.43.42 PMEveryone at your own school has heard you go on and on about your ideas for years now. They have become desensitized, and when people become desensitized to concepts they find them less interesting and can even underestimate the concepts’ general “objective” or “social” value.

But when you are at a conference talking about your ideas to fresh ears, your ideas tend to ring with more authority and more impact. Plus, the ears of conference attendees tend to be in many ways a better sounding board to test your ideas. Your ideas fall on ears without prejudice. To them you’re just a researcher. That’s an incredibly freeing experience.

 #3 Connecting you with that person who nods and smiles in the audience

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 4.41.59 PMIs there anybody in life that makes you as happy as the person in the audience who smiles and approvingly nods along with your presentation? Okay, hopefully your life partner or best friend makes you feel a little better, but still that person in the audience activates the happy dopamine pretty damn hard.

The only person who comes closer to the nodding audience member is the stranger who comes up to you randomly a day after your presentation to say “Good job.” For a moment you feel like the lead singer from the band Fun who sings, “There are people on the street / They’re coming up to me / And they’re telling me / That they like what I do now.”

 #4 Remembering that there are people in the world like you

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Maybe you find qualitative research interesting, maybe you have an odd presentation style, maybe you find applied or niche theoretical research really interesting. Whoever you are you, at times you probably feel like an outcast at your own school. However, when you come to a conference you find that at least some others see the world the way you do, find the same topics interesting, and have the same research philosophy.

Even at the best programs, you can’t find everything you optimally need. That’s why conferences are so beautiful: they fill in the cracks. Chances are, your advisor has probably told you to talk to certain people at conferences to help fill in those cracks. Good advisors know the limitations of a single department. Recently Professor Rucker spoke about this issue and even designed a Doctoral Symposium to specifically address the issue. He wanted students to be more exposed to different ideas and find what methods of doing research they “clicked with.”

#5 Reminding you that you are a person

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 4.34.45 PMIn graduate school, sometimes it is hard to feel like you’re a person. You read, write, analyze, go home, exercise, or maybe not exercise (I promise I’ll do it tomorrow or next week), and then watch an episode of Breaking Bad and go to sleep. That’s what graduate school becomes. While your friends post Facebook pictures of roof top bars, you post an article about the ethics of data collection or a psychological analysis of Doctor Who.

But conferences force students out of their labs and out of their routines, and drop them onto the streets of some truly fantastic cities. If you’re lucky, your conference will even throw an amazing after party at a downtown club where you can feel like a VIP for the night – all this serves to re-energize you as you look down the glass floor of the CN tower or toast a drink at the John Hancock bar and bond with conference friends.

Professor Meg Campbell spoke at the Association for Consumer Research 2013 about how for many graduate students it is important to have a life, excitement, and friends. This all gives students the energy they need to trudge through the academic life. If as a student you do nothing exciting, you may crave an emotional boost from looking through a funny tumblr, but if you know you have excitement in your future, if you feel satisfied with that picture of your conference friends walking the Golden Gate at a lunch break, then dealing with that awful reviewer #2 is not so bad. Conferences can be a personal affirmation.

#6 Wait, there is new research out there! I forgot that.

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As one proceeds in academia one reads more often but reads exciting things less often. By the nature of our craft we start drilling into one area so far that nothing seems very novel or new. And if it is new it seems like a tweak not the grand advancement we got into graduate school looking to make. It can lead you to lose confidence that there’s anything new in the field. It can also just make you depressed, as the days of being excited by daily reading something new in intro grad classes are long behind you.

But at conferences every session, every conversation, and every chance encounter  is full of disparate and new ideas. This has two wonderful effects. First, it is simply wildly entertaining. We forget sometimes how much just listening to new intellectual ideas entertains us. Second, it starts to build “broad connections” that can help you develop your ideas. Professor Jim Bettman advises academics to consistently read up on areas not directly related to their line of study. This takes advantage of the availability bias and leads you as a researcher to keep different ideas available in your head. This means that there are greater chances you’ll find spontaneous connections with your own work.

Malcolm Gladwell’s ACR 2013 Talk: Summary, Science and Responses

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Malcolm Gladwell just gave a talk at the Association for Consumer Research. What did he talk about? How did it go? What scientific research did he cover? What are related research he did not cover? How did he handle questions and a somewhat “difficult” audience of behavioral scientists?

We will post a more detailed reaction soon that will feature editorials. But for those itching to know what he talked about and also interested in citation links related to what he said, here’s your summary fix.

What was his “hypothesis”?

Gladwell talked about topics not in his new book. He described the ideas as ‘provisional’ but they seemed highly polished. He mainly talked about how minorities (women, races) are kept out of the majority and his main hypotheses was that people excluded minorities by a) accepting some of them and/or b) being hyper critical of others. His illustrative hypothesis was that if and when Hillary Clinton is elected President she will be the only woman president for a long time.

What were the specifics of the “hypothesis”?

Gladwell argued that people feel licensed to be discriminatory against minorities because they tend to accept a few of them (e.g. have one female head of state, have one woman artist in a museum) and or do a few things for them (charity). He also argued they feel like they can be hyper critical of minorities.To help explain this point he defined two different types of minority tokens: the trouble token and the ideal token.

The trouble token he defined as the person that represents the minority and is thoroughly thrashed by the majority culture. His main example for this was former Australian head of state Julia Gillard who Gladwell says was uniquely ridiculed by the public in part because of her gender.

The ideal token he defined as the person that is accepted by the majority and allows the majority to feel “not sexists” or “not racist.” His main narrative example for this was artist Elizabeth Thompson who broke into the male dominated English art scene in the 1870s. However, her success did not lead to a drastic change in the gendered art community. There was also some discussion about Jews and how Nazis felt comfortable with prejudice and the Final Solution because they had previously been nice to small groups or individuals. In discussing the ideal token he cited “moral licensing” work about how favoring Obama licenses people to have anti-black attitudes.

How did he do?

ImagePretty fantastic actually. Rhiannon MacDonnell said it best on Twitter: “Really interesting and candid talk by Gladwell at ACR 2013. Great jock tackling a tough crowd with humility and humor.”

Gladwell did two things right: 1) He told great thought provoking stories and 2) he was upfront that he was proposing absolute “laws.” He cleverly joke about how his aims are different from the scientific community.

The ACR Co-Chairs Simona Botti  and Aparna Labroo should be proud to have brought such great entertainment with a side of thought provoking insights to ACR with Gladwell. In their introduction of the Gladwell session, it was obvious how excited the two were to have Gladwell, and by the end of the session that excitement was shared by arguably most of the audience.

But there was one thing…

Gladwell’s talk was extremely depressing.  He identified a problem and offered no solution. His talk ended with, “And I’m not certain we’ll ever have another Black President.”

Gladwell’s entire message was that people in the majority can oppress minorities and still feel good about themselves. His whole talk was about why and how this happened but the takeaway was there really is no hope. There was sliver of hope suggesting that if some how a significant portion of the minority can force their way in, things will get better. However, that was the only ray of sunshine.

Now, if you are in the successful class (like in many ways to audience at Palmer Hilton hotel conference featuring Malcolm Gladwell are), then his points seem insightful. But if you are in the minority or lower class then the results are just depressing.

How did he manage the whole criticism of the Gladwell style?

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Arguably quite well. He was humble. Saying his ideas in the talk were “provisional” and “I am just playing.” He joked about differences between his writing and scientific writing saying, “I am not going to submit that [his hypothesis on culture] to JPSP [The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology].”

He also talked about how though all the behavioral scientists in the room think it is obvious that things like culture affect outcomes, this is not the case for the general public always. He states that his books were to get people thinking about ideas that our field just knows to be true

Yale Professor Zoe Chance asked Gladwell a pointed question about balancing accuracy with storytelling. His response seemed very similar to a recent quote he gave in a Guardian piece, “If my books appear oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them” and also expressed in an extended conversation with Duke Professor Dan Ariely.

Gladwell stated that he wants to inspire people and make them feel joyous about science. He sees himself (as he literally is) the child of an academic and pursues similar but not the exact same goals. From the buzz around ACR it seems Gladwell won over a lot of the Gladwell skeptics. He did this by clarifying that he isn’t trying to replace scientists nor does he want to propose absolute laws – he articulated perfectly and humbly that his goals are different.

Why the talk was interesting & uncomfortable

Gladwell articulated in his iconic style a question that has been on the minds of many moral psychologists: how can we feel good about ourselves when we do so little to actually help those in need?

For instance all of the conference members with enjoy a private party at the House of Blues in Chicago this evening and return late into the night to Palmer Hilton for a nice sleep and flight back—all compensated by their universities. All of us here at ACR arguably all engage in some degree of hypocrisy, claiming to care so much for the poor, the obese, and the irrational consumer, but we then go buy a $5 Starbucks with university funds.

Understanding this general psychological phenomenon and trying to grasp at what truly is the correct moral way to live in the world is something that came (intentionally or not) out of Gladwells speech – it’s a wonderful spark for empirical and philosophical work.

What science should Malcolm Gladwell read?

ImageIt was difficult to tell how much psychology Gladwell has read. He referenced work on moral licensing, but even how familiar he was with that topic was ambiguous. This did not stop him from making insightful and great points that he openly described as speculative.

However, if he does want to move more from speculation to more of a firm hypotheses for a future articles or a book, we have a few suggestions of what he should read more of. If you have any suggestions let us know on Twitter (@Indecision_Blog) or just leave a comment on this post. We’ll be updating this post with the ideas you share us here and also with more specific articles in the future to stimulate discussion amongst ourselves and maybe even to pass along to Gladwell. In sum, it is the belief of at least this author that Gladwell put together some fascinating hypotheses that may be worth exploring or relating to our work.

Moral licensing

Licensing is a more contentious topic than it sometimes seems. We suggest he keeps his eyes out for looming meta-analyses that should come out soon and check out work on when licensing does not occur such as in this study by Ayelet Gneezy and colleagues.

Moral self

His hypotheses seemed very similar to work by Albert Bandura on moral disengagement and Nina Mazar on the self-concept maintenance model. Both of these ideas were the center of Dan Ariely’s bestselling new book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, so it was somewhat odd than none of these researchers in our field got a nod and instead only Effron and Monin got a tip.

Categorization theory

In discussing how people assign people to categories and code people as say “in-group” or “out-group” or how whites might decide where to code a black person as “black” or not has been extensively looked at the literature. This seemed fundamental to his discussion of the ideal token, but he did not discuss any of this work. Was this because of time or his lack of knowledge of it? Even just a short browsing on Psych Wikipedia for this topic might help.

Our Question! His Answer: Storytelling

Indecision Blog had the honor of asking Gladwell the first question in the Q&A (big thanks to co-chairs of ACR for this honor): we asked how can academia influence business persons and policy makers in the way Gladwell has.

His answer was simply that we need to tell stories. He made clear that the story has to be in the communication with businesses and policy makers. Gladwell described his answer as “obvious”, but we still think it’s not so obvious in our field all the time. (Full coverage as well as the full transcription of Gladwell’s answer to this question sometime soon.)

However, we will note that Gladwell started his ACR talk with a very long story before it became apparent what his hypotheses was and long before his talk got “scientifically interesting.” You could feel the tension in the room when Gladwell was just storytelling and before he delivered on the story in a way that seemed to satisfy the audience. We as researchers would probably have skipped the extensive opening narratives when communicating our ideas, but Gladwell says this is necessary. At the end when all the bread crumbs he laid out came together, it was hard to argue that his extensive storytelling did not help make his simple hypotheses seem more real and inspire his audience to actually do something about it.