Research Heroes: Robert B. Cialdini

CialdiniThis week’s Research Hero is Robert B. Cialdini, Regents’ Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. Prof Cialdini’s research focuses on, but is not limited to, social influences and persuasion. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology, the Donald T. Campbell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Psychology, the (inaugural) Peitho Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science of Social Influence, the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and has been elected president of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Professor Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice, which was the result of a three-year program of study into the reasons that people comply with requests in everyday settings, has sold over two million copies while appearing in numerous editions and twenty-eight languages.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career to avoid being overcommitted and, thereby, constantly rushed. In my experience, it is the single self-inflicted problem that, when left to expand, has most undermined the joy of doing research.

I most admire academically William McGuire because he was the consummate combination of big-picture theorist and precise-picture experimentalist.

The project that I am most proud of took me out of my comfort zone as a researcher predicting (mostly from theoretical formulations) the responses of experimental subjects (mostly college students) in controlled settings (mostly laboratories) and put me, as a kind of secret agent, in the training programs of the influence professionals of our society. There, I recorded the lessons taught to aspiring salespeople, marketers, advertisers, managers, fund-raisers, public relations specialists, and recruiters. My intent was to find out which practices were roundly judged to work powerfully time after time, figuring that thriving influence organizations would instruct their influence agents in those techniques. So I answered the organizations’ newspaper ads for trainees or otherwise arranged to be present in their classrooms, notebook in hand, ready to absorb the wisdom born of longstanding experience in the business of persuasion.  That experience of going to the field for evidence, rather than only to the laboratory, changed my perspective on the most productive ways to study the social influence process.

The one project that I should never had done, in keeping with my answer to question #1, was always the one that was so attractive that I agreed to it even though I already had too many projects on my plate to accept another. The consequence was that, invariably, all the projects suffered from my inability to give each the time, energy, and focus it deserved.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research occurred during one of a series of meetings with the local blood services organization to get their assistance with a research project investigating how to get citizens to give blood. Although we thought that we had made a compelling case for mutual benefit, the organization’s chief administrator hung back from authorizing our project. It wasn’t until a junior member of his staff quietly informed us of the reason for her boss’s reluctance that we understood what we had left out of our persuasive approach. “None of you has given blood yet,” she whispered during a break in the meeting. Mildly chastised but properly enlightened, we asked just before the meeting’s close how we might contribute to the organization’s important goals by donating a pint or two of blood ourselves. An opportunity was arranged, blood was drained, and full approval of our project followed within the week.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance doesn’t exist, as I am an inveterate story-teller.

A research project I wish I had done would have followed up empirically on a theoretical piece I wrote a few years ago in which I offered a rationale—beyond the traditional one based on the economic consequences of a damaged reputation—for why organizations should steer sharply away from unethical persuasive practices: Those practices will lend themselves to the attraction and retention of employees who find cheating personally acceptable and who will ultimately cheat the organization as a consequence. Fortunately along with a pair of brilliant collaborators, Jessica Li and Adriana Samper, I am finally beginning that project.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be looking for a way to do this.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is demonstrating convincingly to individuals outside of the academic research community the value of our thinking, findings, and (research-based) approach to the problems they confront regularly.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is always have a foil. For maximum scholarly impact, never test your hypothesis just against the null. Always test it against at least one competing conceptual hypothesis.

I got interested in doing research on social influence because I was raised in an entirely Italian family, in a predominantly Polish neighborhood, in a historically German city (Milwaukee), in an otherwise rural state. I often ascribe my interest in the social influence process to an early recognition that the groups populating those settings had to be approached somewhat differently in order to obtain their assent, sometimes to the identical request. It also struck me that one reason for this complication was that the social norms—the characteristic tendencies and codes of conduct of the groups—differed. Therefore, if I wanted to maximize compliance with a request from a member of one or another of these groups, it would be wise to take into account the dominant social norms of that particular unit.

My recommendations for young researchers interested in studying social influence is get into the field. It’s possible to do soundly conducted, properly controlled studies and experiments in naturally-occurring settings. It might be substantially more inconvenient; but, provided the work is soundly conducted and properly controlled, the data will be more meaningful—and the effort consequently worth it.

Departmental website


Research Heroes: Gerd Gigerenzer

gigerenzer_gerd_rgb_2006_webThis week on Research Heroes we’re featuring professor Gerd Gigerenzer who is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and former Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He has won the AAAS Prize for the best article in the behavioral sciences and the Association of American Publishers Prize for the best book in the social and behavioral sciences. His award-winning popular books Calculated Risks: How To Know When Numbers Deceive You, and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious have been translated into 18 languages and his academic books include The Empire of Chance,Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart, Rationality for Mortals, and Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox (with Reinhard Selten, a Nobel Laureate in economics). Together with the Bank of England, he works on the project “Simple heuristics for a safer world.” He has trained managers, U.S. Federal Judges and German physicians in decision-making and understanding risk and uncertainty. 

I wish that someone had told me at the beginning that research and writing is more fun than playing Jazz and Dixieland (my previous career).

I most admire academically Herbert Simon, because he was no respecter of disciplinary boundaries. There are two ways to do research: one is to identify with a discipline, and to research whatever topics others do; the other is to identify with a problem, and use the knowledge and methods from various disciplines to solve it. Real innovation almost always comes from problem-oriented research.

Asking about the best research project I have worked is like asking me to single out a Wagner opera as my favorite – like the operas, the projects mostly build on each other and form a single body of work.

The worst research project I was involved in: In the early phases of discovering cognitive heuristics, some researchers at my center were overly enthusiastic about the predictive accuracy of a particular heuristic in forecasting sports results. Fortunately for us, the press followed its usual pattern of announcing a dramatic result and just as quickly forgetting it.

The most memorable experience when I was doing research was Ulrich Hoffrage’s and my totally unexpected discovery of the “less-is-more” effect. Initially we were dismayed by this counter-intuitive result, which ruined the experiment in question, but answering the question of how it could be so led to the fast-and-frugal heuristics program.

The one story I always wanted to tell: Up to now my audiences have been kind enough to listen to all of my stories. My books Rationality for Mortals and Gut Feelings are full of stories about research.

A research project I wish I had done: Hmm. When I trained about 1,000 physicians as part of a Continuing Medical Education program to understand risk und uncertainty, I learned that about 80% of physicians are statistically illiterate. I always wondered why medical schools don’t teach medical students to understand evidence, and why most patients, including academics, nevertheless blindly trust their doctors. And why so few psychologists are willing to leave their labs and go out and teach doctors. That would be an important research project I always wanted to do. And probably will.

If I weren’t doing this, I would be a guitar or piano player with my former jazz band.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years lies in studying how one should rationally deal with unknown risks (“uncertainty”), as opposed to known risks (“risk”). Uncertainty means that not all alternatives, consequences and probabilities are known – as in most of our decisions. Under uncertainty, one cannot optimize and has to rely on smart heuristics. Probability theory and logic are the tools for known risks; heuristics and intuition are those for uncertainty. This distinction is not always respected, and there are still many who believe that subjective probability theory would be the only tool that is needed to make good decisions.

My advice: If you are average and unimaginative, do what the others do and pursue a decent career. If you are brilliant and smart, try to think deep, be bold and take professional risks. 

Departmental website

Research Heroes: Max Bazerman

Bazerman_25aThis week’s Research Hero is Prof. Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also affiliated with Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Psychology Department, and the Program on Negotiation. Prof Bazerman’s research focuses on but is not limited to decision making, ethics, and negotiation. He has coedited more than 200 articles and 16 books, including Negotiation Genius, Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them, and the sixth edition of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. He has international collaborations with over 25 countries and 50 companies in United States. Prof. Bazerman is also famous for being the one who introduced the science of negotiation in Business schools. He has received many awards, to name a few recent ones: honorary doctorate from the University of London (London Business School), being named as one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics, one of Daily Kos’ Heroes from the Bush Era for going public about how the Bush Administration corrupted the RICO Tobacco trial, and the 2008 Distinguished Educator Award from the Academy of Management.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…

a) All good papers find homes

b) If the reviewer is being “stupid”, it is probably your writing that allows them to be “stupid”.  The solutions isn’t hoping for smart reviewers, but taking the perspective of the reviewer, and writing so that they see the brilliance in your work.  (and, if you don’t have those writing skills, find an editor)

I most admire academically… because…

a) Kahneman and Tversky, for outlining the most influential research direction in the social sciences

b) Thaler and Sunstein, for nudging us to how to put this brilliance into practice to make the world a better place

The best research project I have worked on during my career...the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….
The next project, which I do not even know about as I write this, that one of my brilliant doctoral students lures me into joining.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…the one project that I should never had done…
My empirical work has co-authors, so I am going to refuse to answer this one.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….The common occurrence of a brilliant doctoral student coming into my office to inform me about how wrong I am – again!

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…
I have told all my stories worth telling

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…Kern, M. and Chugh, D. (2009).  Bounded ethicality: The perils of loss framing.  Psychological Science, 20(3), 378-384. The paper is brilliant, simple, and important.  And, it is about things I know about.  I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this before Kern and Chugh.  I love this paper!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be...less happy.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Changing our methods to cope with the insightful and important work of John, Leslie K., George Loewenstein, and Drazen Prelec. Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling. Psychological Science (2012). Simmons, Joseph P.,  Leif D. Nelson and Uri Simonsohn.  False-Positive Psychology : Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting. Psychological Science (2011). My generation messed up, and led to the acceptance of bad practices with too many cute false positives.  We need to clean up our act, and the faster the better.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Don’t p-hack (see Simmons et al., 2011).  The world is changing, detecting p-hacking is easy, and the value on integrity in research is going up very quickly.

Prof. Bazerman’s Wikipedia page

Research Heroes: Barry Schwartz

This week’s research hero is prof. Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College. schwartzProf. Schwartz received his PhD from University of Pennsylvania and his research addresses morality, decision making, and reasoning. He has published a number of books, among other the praised “Paradox of Choice”. He is also active in publishing in scientific journals and editorials in the New York Times where he applies research in psychology to current events. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…To take more math.  I spent my undergraduate days taking every psych course there was. Then I twiddled my thumbs in grad school while other students caught up.  I should have done lots more math.

I most admire academically… I won’t mention names, but the people I most admire academically are people who are willing to be wrong in public.  Everyone seems to think that the worst thing you can do is be wrong.  I think the worst thing you can do is be trivial.  This is reflected in journal submission reviews, tenure reviews and grant reviews. It’s a pity. People willing to make mistakes in public are the people who really move the field forward.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… I think the best paper I ever wrote was not an empirical paper, but the result of a collaboration with two philosopher colleagues.  We wrote a paper that tried to embed the work of B.F. Skinner in the historical context of the growth of the factory, and of “scientific management” in the U.S.  It’s an old paper (1978), and in those days my empirical work was focused on identifying the limits of Skinner’s view of the world.  This project made me appreciate that there was no guarantee that claims that were empirically false would die–of “natural causes.”  They could live if society believed them and then shaped its institutions in the image of these claims.  Many years later I published a paper in Psych Science, prompted by the book, “The Bell Curve,” that made a similar point and called the phenomenon “ideology,” after Karl Marx’s notion of “false consciousness.”  Working on this paper changed the way I think about psychological phenomena in general.  It actually contributed to two of my books, “The Battle for Human Nature,” and “The Costs of Living.”

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… I did a whole bunch of pretty trivial things in my days working from within the Skinnerian worldview.  Happily, they were pretty trivial even at the time, so no one was led on wild goose chases.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….In my paper on “maximizing” (JPSP, 2002), we did a study of the ultimatum game that I thought had no chance of working.  It worked!  It was quite clever, borrowing a methodology developed by Marcel Zeelenberg and Jane Beatty.  Alas, this is a part of the paper that nobody writes about.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…Well, I have told this story.  I taught a course in “motivation” almost 40 years ago.  I gave everyone a B and they knew this on day 1.  There was still a midterm, a final and a term paper, all of them graded, but people got a B no matter what.  This was designed to have students scrutinize their own motives in being students. For the first five weeks, everything was great.  But then midterms in other courses rolled around, students in my course fell behind, and they never caught up, growing increasingly embarrassed as the semester wore on.  I think I ended up with three (quite good) papers in a class of 40.  It was not a successful experiment.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… Well, I’d be a writer.  In the last 25 years, what I have found most satisfying, by far, is writing books (and the occasional article) for non-professional audiences.  My aim is to make the mysterious world of psychological research comprehensible and to show readers why it matters.  I’ve written four such books thus far and plan to start a fifth this summer.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…

This will seem iconoclastic, but I think there are four challenges:

1. Too much data.  I think it would be good to declare a moratorium on new data until we understand the data we already have.  Five years, let’s say (I told you I’d be iconoclastic).

2.  Far too much worship of neuroscience.

3. People whose education is far too specialized and who then perpetuate this specialization in the students they train.

4. An incentive structure for success that is close to a disaster.  It’s all about having publication lists as long as your arms and about publishing papers that are “flawless.”  As long as this persists, all the concern about “p-hacking” in the world will not induce people to do research that matters and do it honestly and openly.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Take lots of math, be willing to make mistakes in public, and work on things that matter.  I certainly can’t guarantee that this will lead to a successful career.  But if it does, it will be a career worth having.


Research Heroes: Robin Hogarth

This week’s research hero is prof. Robin Hogarth. Prof. Hogarth has a MBA from INSEADhogarth and received his PhD from University of Chicago.  He is currently an emeritus professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where the next SPUDM is being held. Prof. Hogarth is well-known for conducting interdisciplinary research within judgment and decision making. He has held positions at prestigious academic institutions such as INSEAD, University of Chicago and London Business School. He has been and is still very active in publishing and has authored a large number of articles and books. He has been deputy dean, Director of the Center for Decision Research, and responsible for setting up the University of Chicago’s executive MBA program in Europe.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…only work on what really interests you.

I most admire academically…researchers who have a well-developed aesthetic sense of beauty and simplicity for both theory and methods. Hillel Einhorn was one of these people.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…was the process of writing my book Educating intuition.  It allowed me to synthesize a lot of what I had learned over many years.  However, my most fun – and best – projects were when working intensely with Hillel Einhorn in the 1970s and 1980s.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…was a project about evaluating management education programs. I undertook this for all the wrong reasons and should never have started it.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….was when I first found that people were actually citing my work.  This made me realize how important it is to get things “right”.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…I really hated being a PhD student at the University of Chicago. That stimulated me to complete my PhD in a short time in order to move onto the next stage of the academic ladder.

A research project I wish I had done…There are too many!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…an unhappy (but probably rich) retired accountant!

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Improving our methodological practices so that our theories can lead to results that can be generalized better.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Follow your interests and “keep your eye on the ball.”

Personal homepage of Prof. Hogarth

Research Heroes: Paul Slovic

This week’s research hero is professor Paul Slovic. Prof. Slovic received his PhD from University slovic%20pic%20full%20size_2of Michigan and has been one of the pioneers in methods to measure risk. He studies fundamental issues such as the influence of affect on judgments and decisions, the factors that underlie perceptions of risk. He has a large number of publications in not only the area of risk but also compassion and genocide. He is the founder and President of Decision Research, and has  received numerous awards such as the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… Actually, I’m very glad no one did tell me, when I took my first job at the Oregon Research Institute, how hard it would be to live off soft money from grants and contracts for close to 50 years. I might not have taken the job. Despite the challenges, I have no regrets.

I most admire academically… There are many JDMers who I very much admire, including the fine colleagues I have been fortunate to work with. But, like many others, I have a special admiration for Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman. I always had an interest in applying JDM research to important societal problems and when Amos and Danny began to do their simple but elegant heuristics and biases studies of judgment under uncertainty, I immediately was motivated to extend their findings into the realm of what Sarah Lichtenstein, Baruch Fischhoff, and I later termed “societal risk taking”—in particular nuclear and chemical safety and finance. It was great fun exposing people from other disciplines to this fascinating and important behavioral research and I have continued doing this throughout my career.

My favorite research project… is always the one I’m working on at the moment. But, looking back on many favorites, I have a particular fondness for the preference-reversal studies done with Sarah Lichtenstein. They began serendipitously, when, as part of a larger study, we happened to compare two response modes for evaluating gambles and found they were highly inconsistent. This was only an incidental part of the study we were doing, but we took that finding and ran with it. We then had the exciting opportunity to replicate our research on the floor of the Four Queens Casino in Las Vegas. The results, demonstrating what was later called “a violation of procedure invariance,” greatly threatened and annoyed economists who believed pricing and choice should be equivalent indicators of preference. They launched numerous studies “to discredit the psychologists’ work as applied to economics.” They failed. Over time this research led us to a broader perspective that we named “the construction of preference”.

Paul Slovic and Sarah Lichtenstein in Las Vegas, 1969

Paul Slovic and Sarah Lichtenstein in Las Vegas, 1969

My worst project… I’ve conducted many studies, some were clunkers. A few that fizzled contained hidden gems (serendipity again), such as the one that evolved into the paper “Preference for Choosing Among Equally Valued Alternatives.” I had been trying hard to construct pairs of two-dimensional stimuli that were exactly equal in value to use in an experiment on context effects. But I found that, when testing for equality, there was always a strong and systemic preference for the option that was best on the more important dimension. So again I took this failure and ran with it (slowly; it took 17 years to come to fruition). Amos Tversky and Shmuel Sattath nicely enhanced my serendipitous findings when they used them as a springboard to “the prominence effect.”

Most memorable experience… Watching Ward Edwards try to impress the manager of the Four Queens Casino in Las Vegas regarding the studies we wanted to run on the casino floor. Ward had a notebook of gamble pairs, simulating an experiment we planned to run on a computer. “Which of these two (very different) gambles would you prefer to play?” asked Ward.

“I’ll take A,” said the casino boss.

“But you didn’t even look at the gambles,” responded Ward, with a mixture of surprise and annoyance.

“I feel lucky with A,” was the reply. Another pair was offered—again an instant choice of A. “I won with A last time, so I went with A again,” was the explanation. So much for rational weighting of probabilities and payoffs by a man in charge of a major gambling enterprise. The manager was not impressed with us academics either, but we were allowed to take up valuable floor space and run several experiments. Despite having no “house advantage”, they were the most unpopular games in the casino because they required players to think and make tradeoffs among the dimensions of gambles.

If I were not doing this… I would be a human-rights activist. There seems no end to the abuses of human beings being perpetrated around the world. And I have come to see that JDM research has relevance for motivating people to care about helping others and for designing procedures, laws, and institutions to aggressively address these abuses when compassion fatigue sets in. I’m working at this now but I wish I were better prepared to employ JDM findings to stop human-rights violations.

The biggest challenge facing the field in the next decade is… maintaining its identity in the face of the ever-increasing fragmentation of disciplines. Will it become subsumed under “behavioral economics”? I hope not. I would not like to see JDM subsumed under behavioral economics because JDM is applicable to all human judgment and decision contexts and is thus broader in scope than economics. Also, in my opinion, psychology is at the core of JDM and I would not like to see that perspective diminished. Another challenge is to demonstrate the centrality of JDM research for yet another emerging discipline, “behavioral public policy” (see, e.g., Eldar Shafir’s new book on that topic).

My advice for young researchers is… run experiments and collect data. Don’t feel you necessarily need an elegant theory or well-identified hypothesis before you can do a study. Having a good question to answer is enough to motivate a study. I have found that collecting and analyzing data is an aid to thinking about a problem. New insights often emerge that one might have come to by thinking hard, but instead emerged from puzzling over data. Theoretical development and hypothesis testing can then take root from those insights. And be alert for incidental findings that may be even more important than what you were originally looking for.

Research Heroes: Peter Ayton

This week we’re featuring a Research Hero from the other side oP_AYTONf the Atlantic and moving over to the UK with professor Peter Ayton from City University London. After receiving his PhD from University College London, he joined City University faculty in 1992. He has also been a visiting Professor at the Anderson School of Business UCLA, Princeton and Carnegie-Mellon universities in the USA, as well as the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. His research tests the psychological theories of judgment and the mental strategies adopted for judging and deciding. He has also investigated issues in areas of human activity as diverse as legal, medical and transport judgement, and individual’s decisions about their personal well-being. His published books include ‘Subjective Probability’ and ‘Judgemental Forecasting’.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… that writing is a lot easier if you talk to someone – as many people as will listen – about what you are trying to write about before trying to put anything down. Writing is talking written down – but harder because, in the absence of the listener/reader it’s not so easy to see if your point is interesting or even getting across. And try and write all the time: somehow I often discover what I have to say in the actual process of writing – or talking.

For me research is a very social process. I know some people worry about having their ideas stolen, which I can’t help but feel is a mistake.  I’m very fond of computer pioneer Howard Aiken’s remark: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas; if your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats”.

I most admire academically… The first paper I read as a PhD student was Features of Similarity by Amos Tversky. Its brilliance, inventiveness and style – the final sentence left me in awe – had a huge impact on me. The feelings it inspired were like those from listening to fantastic music – not quite as intense as the first time I heard “I am the walrus” – but up there. I read more – of course the classic work with Kahneman – also the collaborations with others and became a fan. On the BBC’s long running radio show “Desert Island Discs” you have to imagine you are cast away with only 8 records for company.  If ever I’m a castaway on “Desert Island Psychology Papers” Tversky’s work will come with me.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… I really enjoy collaborative research and have been fortunate enough to have worked with lots of different people [curious how most academic papers – even those not necessitating a technical “team” – have more than one author – while almost all literary work is single authored]. Of course negotiating a consensual view with others is sometimes a challenge – but maybe that makes it better. For me they are each uniquely infused with the personalities of the people I worked with but it’s rather futile trying to pick out one as exceptional to the others.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…  It’s hardly for me to deny that I have worked on some fairly uninspiring projects but I can’t think of one I regret undertaking. Many led nowhere but that is the nature of research I think.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing 

Graham Greene letter

research… The Hollywood film biopic of my research career would be an excellent cure for insomnia – but there have been one or two episodes that stand out for me. One highlight was receiving a letter from the author Graham Greene. I had sent him a slightly whimsical piece I had written about what I fancied was a probability fallacy in his book “Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party” – and he replied! His reply was hardly an epic literary text but it thrilled me to bits.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I spend a lot of time telling – usually re-telling – stories so I can hardly say I never had the chance. I have squirreled away a modest collection of poignant events with decision researchers that I ought to place on record at some point – like the time when I spilled a terrifyingly expensive glass of wine when out to dinner with Dick Thaler (around the time he wasn’t working on the mental accounting of wine consumption); the time I capsized in a canoe on the rapids with George Loewenstein and the time when, engrossed in a long conversation with Karl Halvor Teigen, I noticed a spider busily spinning a web connecting our noses. 

A research project I wish I had done… Foolishly I don’t eschew research projects that interest me – I am usually hopelessly over-stretched because I find it impossible to resist the temptation to investigate whatever looks worth a look. Consequently there are lots of “pending” projects I wish I had finished – but maybe they’ll emerge one day. Some of my papers were well over 10 years in the making… 

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… a very different, less fulfilled person. An enormous of my mental life is informed by contemplating JDM concepts. It more than makes up for the disappointment of not becoming a professional footballer.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… I could be wrong – I suspect throughout history many felt they lived at a critical juncture – but the phenomenal attention given to our field is a fantastic development that needs to be sustained and progressed.  At the risk of sounding like an old codger I do remember when the subject was a bit of a backwater. It has been growing throughout my lifetime but in the 10 years since Kahneman’s Nobel an array of popular books and the internet have made judgment & decision-making research (OK – “behavioral economics” to those who fear “psychology” turns off economists and their audience) a very hot topic among the chattering – and even the ruling – classes. Can we sustain this attention and claim a permanent and prominent role in determining public policy? I worry that recent research scandals will jeopardize progress, or that it will suffer from some sort of backlash when people find out we don’t know everything, but the potential for a real sea change looks enormous.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… At the  start of my PhD, I recall receiving lots of general advice from well-intentioned people and wondering how to implement it – e.g.: “Take risks”; “Focus on one clear question”. Both sound plausible but quite how do you do that – how do you even know if you are doing it?

Moreover, given what I now understand about psychology, I doubt I should trust my now-self to reliably recall my then-self and then validly diagnose what would have helped me. Are there indeed any gobbets of sagacious advice that would have made life easier? Surely, if there were real pearls of wisdom wouldn’t they be common knowledge?

I tell my students not to stress if things appear to be going badly – in fact I tell them I would be worried if they always told me things were going well. Research entails doing things you haven’t done before and if you haven’t done something before you often don’t do it that well; if things are going well maybe they aren’t really doing research at all… All those papers with calm rational accounts of elegant progress through an investigation don’t typically mention all the blind alleys, false dawns and stymied impasses that were suffered on the way. 

Departmental website | Website

Research Heroes: Baruch Fischhoff

Baruch Fischhoff is one of the best known names when it comes to risk and JDM. He received his PhD in psychFischhoff_Baruch_188x220ology from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel and also holds a BS in mathematics. Currently, he is the Howard Heinz University Professor in the departments of Social and Decision Sciences and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. He has served as the president for the Society for Judgment and Decision Making and of the Society for Risk Analysis, and recipient of its Distinguished Achievement Award. He was founding chair of the Food and Drug Administration Risk Communication Advisory Committee and recently chaired the National Research Council Committee on Behavioral and Social Science Research to Improve Intelligence Analysis for National Security. He is also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science(previously the American Psychological Society), the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the Society for Risk Analysis. He has authored numerous articles and co-authored/edited seven books, including Risk: A Very Short Introduction

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… How important it is to listen to people, in order to understand the decisions that they are facing, so that we have the best chance of helping them.  For example, Julie Downs, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, and I were able to create an interactive DVD, helping young women with sexual decisions, partly because we conducted open-ended interviews that allowed us to hear them describe how coercive many social situations were.  Much of our intervention focuses on empowering young women to assert their right to make decisions.

I most admire academically… My doctoral advisors, Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman.  Along with Maya Bar Hillel, Ruth Beyth-Marom, and a few lucky others, I had a front-row seat as they thrashed out the early stages of their joint work.  As a bonus, I followed the development of “Features of Similarity” en route to the Hebrew University squash courts with Amos.  And my post-doctoral advisors, Paul Slovic and Sarah Lichtenstein, who helped me to consolidate my craft and encouraged me to engage messy problems.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… Lita Furby and I worked together on producing responsible advice for women on how to reduce the risk of sexual assault – advice that was faithful to the diversity of women’s circumstances and to the (limited) evidence regarding the effectiveness of self-defense strategies.  I learned something general about imposing reasonable structure on complex problems.  I’d like to think that we did some good.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… Since the late Carter Administration, I’ve worked sporadically on decision making about nuclear power.  I’ve given talks, published papers, and even co-authored a book (Acceptable Risk).  However, it’s hard to see that the work has any impact on the industry  – other than occasionally seeing its people spin our research to support their position (e.g., how an irrational public cannot be trusted with such decisions).

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research…. In 1976, Paul Slovic wrangled me an invitation to one of the first interdisciplinary meetings on risk analysis, at the State of California’s Asilomar Conference Center.  The topics of the talks were extremely varied (e.g., nuclear power, recombinant DNA, liquefied natural gas).  However, all seemed to be making unrealistic assumptions about human behavior (e.g., how vigilant would operators be, how much did experts know, how strongly would regulations be enforced).  I concluded that we behavioral and decision scientists had something to say everywhere, but only if we collaborated with people who really knew the problems.  I wrote up my thoughts (in “Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”), which, remarkably, got published and opened other doors.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… As an undergraduate math major at Wayne State, I got to be an RA for the late Samuel Komorita, who was doing some of the earliest studies in behavioral game theory.  My job included giving standard (and sometimes false) feedback in a prisoner’s dilemma game, in the form of red or green lights.  At the debriefing session after one pretest, a subject (as participants were called back then) revealed having discovered our deception, by seeing the reflections of the lights off the glass bookcases in the room (in the basement of Old Main).  Sam quickly fixed that.

A research project I wish I had done… Along with Danny, Paul, Dave Schkade, and others, I was part of the “contingent valuation wars,” waged over resource economists’ naïve, but often well-meaning attempts to monetize “intangible” environmental changes by asking people what they would pay to make those changes happen or stop.  Eventually, we wore one another out.  Had we persisted in those engagements, though, we might have produced some useful insights into how people “construct” values for the strange questions that such studies pose.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be Perhaps a political activist.  My wife Andi and I went to Israel with the intent of living our lives on a kibbutz, whose ideology disparaged the academic world.  When that didn’t work out, we went back to school, somewhat half-heartedly.  I then had the amazing good fortune to be swept up in the work of Danny, Amos, and the people around them.  A political mentor, Reuven Kaminer, helped me to realize that our values inevitably shape our choice of problem; after that, though, the rules of science must prevail – creating the chance of serving science and society.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years.. Making ourselves more central to the places where the policies, programs, and products that shape our world are created.  Often, we’re consulted only when there is a “people problem,” with the hope that we can somehow deliver the public, by informing or manipulating them so that they behave in desired ways.  I’d rather see us in at the start, designing environments that help people to identify and achieve their own goals.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is Decide whether to view academic work as a job or a calling.  If it is the former, then the criteria for success are clear, even if the pathway is uncertain.  If it is the latter, though, then one must keep asking whether the constraints of the academic world preclude doing work that one finds meaningful – and, if so, how to bend or escape them.

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Research Heroes: Robert S. Wyer

This week on Research Heroes we have Robert S. Wyer who is visiting wyer croppedprofessor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In addition to having recently been cited as having published the greatest number of articles in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in the 30 years since its inception, he has received numerous awards, including 2011 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Consumer Psychology, the 2008 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the 1998 Thomas M. Ostrom Award for Distinguished Contributions to Person Memory and Social Cognition, and the Alexandr von Humboldt Special Research Prize for Distinguished Scientists. His research interest span social information processing, including knowledge accessibility, comprehension, memory, social inference, the impact of affect on judgment and decisions, attitude formation and change, and consumer judgment and decision making.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… That I’d still be doing teaching and research at the age of 77.

I most admire academically… Bill McGuire, who is regarded by many (including myself) as the most influential social psychologist to ever emerge in our field, has been my role model since the early 1970s and continues to be. Bill is well recognized as the true “father of social information processing,” and his early work in isolating the different stages of processing that underlie the use of information in making judgments was the inspiration for my own work. There is no need here to document his numerous empirical and conceptual contributions to the field; his influence cuts across not only social psychology but also political science and consumer behavior. But his more intangible contributions to my career have been profound.

McGuire was an editor of JPSP during the early 1970s and is still recognized as one of the best journal editors the field has seen. His ability to identify the good things about a paper rather than the bad things, and then helping the author to realize the paper’s potential, served as a model that I tried to emulate in two editorships I have had.

But an anecdote may suffice to convey the impact that he has had on my career and many others’. I was a very naïve young psychologist back in 1968; almost 6 years past my Ph.D., I was still floundering, and wondered whether anyone had even read any of the work I had done, to say nothing of whether they cared about it. During this period of self-doubt, I submitted a paper to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that Bill handled as editor. I cannot recall his reactions to the paper itself. However, he undoubtedly called attention to several instances of conceptual and expository sloppiness, because I wrote back a note apologizing to him for putting him through the ordeal of evaluating it. I immediately received a response from Bill that made my day and, ultimately, my career. I cannot recall his exact words, but they were to the effect that he and others had “assumed” that I knew I was a good psychologist, and that it was only in this context that they bothered to take the time to “carp” about the things he had noted in his review. Leaving aside the fact that his earlier comments were hardly “carps,” this was the first time that anyone, let alone someone as eminent as Bill McGuire, had conveyed any interest whatsoever in anything I had done. His encouragement to me at this critical point in my career gave me the self-confidence to persist. Many years later, it still inspires me during times of disappointment and self-doubt. It is perhaps for this, more than anything else, that I am indebted to this remarkable psychologist and equally remarkable human being.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… This is hard to say. One project I’ve always liked, however, was one that had minimal influence on the field, and concerned emotional communication in married couples. Galen Bodenhausen, Lisa Gaelick, and I had couples discuss a problem they were having in their relationship and then, in later sessions, identified significant things that one another had said and rated the love and hostility the statements conveyed. Two interesting findings. Partners typically tried to reciprocate the feelings they perceived one another to convey. However, persons accurately perceived the hostility that their partners conveyed but were inaccurate in perceiving expressions of love. One implication of this, of course, is that hostility escalated over time.

The other interesting finding was that when a woman intended to convey a neutral emotion, her husband interpreted it as an expression of hostility, but when the man intended to convey a neutral emotion, his wife interpreted it as an indication of love. I’ve always liked this study, although it is quite different from most of the work I’ve done.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… That’s also hard. I think that almost all research projects I’ve been involved in have been informative. My motivation to do research is to answer a question I think is interesting, and I pursue it until I have an answer that satisfies me personally, although perhaps not a journal editor.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research…. I don’t think it’s amazing but it’s memorable and repeats itself often—the experience of seeing graduate students’ excitement when they suddenly have a new insight into a phenomenon that they want to pursue. Witnessing this excitement and enthusiasm never ceases to be rewarding.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… My mind is a blank.

A research project I wish I had done… This may be a null set. I have always pursued whatever interests I and persons working with me have at the time.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be either a sportswriter or a jazz musician—areas I was excited about until my father convinced me I should go to college.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years.. No idea.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is to pursue their personal interests and to maintain the excitement about research that led them to get into the field in the first place. This is hard to do given the negativistic orientation that pervades journals these days. There is obviously nothing more discouraging than to do some research on a question that you are really interested in and come up with answers that you’re really excited about, only to submit it for publication and have it rejected because “it doesn’t make a contribution.” You have to have a thick skin and confidence in your own abilities and interests, and do NOT let journals dictate these interests.

I’ll close with a quote from Bill McGuire. After likening the search for knowledge to that of a boy who is lost in the woods, he continues:

“…if the empirical scientist is lost in a complex area, his pursuing the implications of any reasonable paradigm in a steady direction will probably led him to some ultimate clarification of the area. If instead he drops each theory as soon as the slightest negative evidence crops up, there results the danger that he will wander around in circles and not obtain any clarification. The researcher who keeps the faith and pursues his paradigm to ultimate enlightenment may find that there is a much better theory he could have chosen initially. But his persistence will also have demonstrated the truth of Blake’s proverb that “if the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” (McGuire, 1972, p. 138)

That says it all.

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Research Heroes: Frank Kardes

This week on Research Heroes we have Frank R. Kardes who is the Frank Kardes portraitDonald E. Weston Professor of Marketing at the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati.  He is a recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology. His research focuses on omission neglect, inference, persuasion, judgment, and decision making, and he has published in many leading scientific journals Dr. Kardes is also a co-editor of Marketing Letters, former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Advances in Consumer Research, and the Handbook of Consumer Psychology. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… I wish someone had told me to get ready to have a lot of papers rejected. To have a lot of papers accepted, you must also have a lot of papers rejected.  Some of my best papers have been rejected and it’s often difficult to decide how to revise these papers and where to send them next.  Everyone also seems to think that the submission process gets easier with age and experience, but it actually gets harder because the reviewers are younger and they have different research interests and different methodological preferences.  Also, with age, distractions in the form of editorships, consulting projects, etc. increase.

I most admire academically… My hero is Robert S. Wyer, Jr., because he is the greatest social psychologist and the greatest consumer psychologist in the history of the fields.  He is the most prolific author in the history of social psychology and he has had the biggest ideas with the far-reaching implications (e.g.., information processing, accessibility effects, assimilation and contrast effects, on-line judgment vs. memory-based judgment).  He has also been a big help to me personally, and we have a new chapter coming out in the Handbook of Social Cognition and we’re working on several research projects.  

The best research project I have worked on during my career… I really like nearly all of my research projects.  One of my favorites is Deval, Mantel, Kardes, and Posavac (2013), which will appear in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.  This article presents 8 experiments showing how and when a wide variety of marketing tactics succeed and when they backfire.  In each of the studies, success or failure depends critically on the naïve theories or assumptions that consumers use when interpreting marketing communications.  The same marketing messages can either succeed or fail depending on which naïve theories consumers use.  Importantly, most consumers have many naïve theories and they fail to recognize that some of these theories are contradictory.  We investigated commonly used naive theories like price signals quality,  promotions signal value, and technical information signals competence. 

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… I don’t think I regret any of my research projects.  I’ve had some projects that I thought were based on good ideas, but the data were weak.  Usually the quality of the data determines which journals I target.   I still don’t mind publishing occasionally in less prestigious journals.  Some of these projects were quite interesting, but the data were not particularly compelling.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… The project I learned the most from was my dissertation (Kardes 1988, Journal of Consumer Research).  This project demonstrated that it is better to omit conclusions from ads and let consumers draw their own conclusions when they are likely to think about the implications of the information presented in the ad.  When they are less thoughtful, it is better to present conclusions explicitly in the ads.  I was using primitive response latency equipment.  We didn’t have laptops back then.  Incidentally, on some of my earlier projects, I had to punch data on cards using a teletype.  One of my subjects told me that he was recently in a bad automobile accident and he suffered serious brain damage.  To my surprise, his data were the same as the other normal subjects.  This made me think that the dissertation ideas were even more generalizable than I had originally thought possible.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I generated several dissertation research ideas before my advisor and I settled on one.  He advised me not to pursue one of my earlier ideas because he thought that it would be too difficult to run this study.  Many years later, I ran the study and it lead to one of my advisor’s favorite articles of mine (Kardes et al. 2001, Journal of Consumer Psychology).  This study shows that a long stream of arguments is a house of cards that falls when one argument is attacked.  However, when several independent sets of arguments imply the same conclusion, the conclusion is much more resistant to attack.

A research project I wish I had done… I usually pursue most of my ideas eventually, although I sometimes wait years.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… I’d probably be a sommelier or a chef.  I’m a wine connoisseur and a foodie. 

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… Bridging the gap between theory and practice.  Pressures to conduct applied research seem to increase every year, but without theory, the field of consumer psychology would be lost.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Be persistent.  Everyone gets rejected.  Learn to write effectively.  Writing for academic journals is different from writing for any other outlet.

Departmental website