Happy New Year from InDecision!

It’s been little over a year since we started this blog, with the hope of attracting a couple of hundred readers. Instead, we’ve had over 70,000 hits with over 35,000 visitors from 155 countries. The top 10 countries for visitors included:

  1. visitors globallyUnited States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. Germany
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Australia
  7. India
  8. Singapore
  9. Sweden
  10. Switzerland

So much, so predictable! But who does JDM research in Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Vanuatu, Sudan, Rwanda, Ghana, Nicaragua, Bermuda, Bhutan, Barbados or Bolivia? If that’s you, get in touch – we’d love to speak to you and hear about JDM research in your country. This year, we’ll address one of the issues highlighted by professor Dan Ariely in his interview and start to look at what impact culture might have on decision making science through a series of interviews focusing on the challenges (and opportunities!) cross-cultural psychology might pose for JDM.

In case you missed them the first time, the top 10 posts from the year are:

  1. Research Heroes: Richard Thaler
  2. In The Wild: Rory Sutherland
  3. Outside The Matrix: Paul Litvak
  4. The Seven Sins of Consumer Psychology
  5. Research Heroes: George Loewenstein
  6. Viewpoint: The role of revealed research preferences
  7. Outside The Matrix: Jolie Martin
  8. In The Wild: Kelly Peters
  9. Research Heroes: Colin Camerer
  10. Research Heroes: Gerd Gigerenzer 

We’ve been incredibly lucky in being able to interview some amazing people in our field, and we can’t thank them enough for giving their time to answer our questions. On behalf of all the people who have thanked us for running the blog, please know that your contribution is widely appreciated and makes a big difference to young researchers around the world.

The original aim of the blog was to give young researchers a voice. We’ve taken some steps in that direction by growing the team with sub-editors Caroline Roux, Shereen Chaudry and Leigh Caldwell as well as our dedicated contributor Troy Campbell. In 2014, we’ll start to feature young researchers more regularly through a new interview series. We’ll also widen our net for career advice to include researchers who have are making waves early on in their career and shaping the field as they go.

Lulu+-+Something+To+Shout+About+-+CD+ALBUM-427621We’d also welcome submissions from readers: if you’re a young researcher and have just published an awesome paper you want to tell the world about, get in touch. Since subtle hints and words of encouragement have so far fallen on deaf ears, let us put this bluntly: blatant self-promotion is OK, and strongly encouragedOne of the main goals of this blog is to give young scholars a platform to share and discuss their work, but we cannot achieve this goal without your contribution!

Finally, one of the emerging trends in our field is the rising popularity of field studies and applying the science both in the policy and commercial worlds with many of our Research Heroes highlighting the need to connect our work with the outside world. However, such work is extremely challenging and we have much to learn from the pioneers, so in 2014 we’ll also be speaking to those who have made early inroads into taking decision making science out of the lab and into the Real World.

As always, we welcome your feedback and contribution – please don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us know what you think!

We hope that you’ll enjoy the next year with us.

Elina & Neda

Research Heroes: Shlomo Benartzi

20110427_1192As one of the last posts this year, we’re featuring our 28th Research Hero: professor Shlomo Benartzi from UCLA Anderson School of Management, a leading authority on behavioral finance with a special interest in household finance and participant behavior in retirement savings plans. His most significant research contribution is the co-development of Save More Tomorrow (with Richard Thaler), a behavioral prescription designed to help employees increase their savings rates gradually over time. Professor Benartzi has also supplemented his academic research with both policy work and practical experience through advising government agencies in the U.S. and abroad as well as helping to craft numerous legislative efforts and pension reforms.  In addition, he has also worked with many financial institutions as an academic advisor. His latest initiative is Digitai.org where he’s exploring new digital interventions that will help consumers, businesses and policymakers leverage behavioral research. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… that you should only do research you are really passionate about. Research often requires years and years of sustained effort, so unless you have a passion for these ideas, then you will almost certainly give up. (It’s like a marriage in that sense.) There’s also something magical that happens when you are passionate about the research. Not only is the work more fun, but it somehow gets published. Don’t ask me how it happens.

I most admire academically… I’m going to cheat and give you three names. The first person is Danny Kahneman. Not only is he super brilliant, but he’s also very insightful about questions outside his area of expertise. He never gives in to pressure, and always does what he thinks is right academically. Richard Thaler I admire for the diversity of his research program, and also his ability to see the big picture. John Payne is incredibly humble, yet an unusually deep thinker.

The project that I’m most proud of is… Save More Tomorrow, a little idea Thaler and I came up with that led more than 4 million people to double their savings rate. We weren’t particularly brilliant, but we were persistent and with a bit of luck we made a big difference.

The one project that I should never had done… I’m still trying to forget that.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… I was salsa dancing at the boathouse in Santa Monica and chatted with my friend Brian Tarbox who worked in the finance industry. I told him about my idea for Save More Tomorrow; I didn’t even think he was listening. Several years later I hear from him again and he hands over an excel spreadsheet with all the data. He said I have some good news: I tried out the Save More Tomorrow idea and it works. Your program quadrupled the savings rate of these low-income people.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… what I’d really love to do is follow-up with those people in Brian’s spreadsheet. The company insisted on being anonymous, and Brian passed away, but I’d love to know how those individuals are doing now. Are they still saving more? Have they managed to retire with dignity?

A research project I wish I had done… I had this hunch that automatic enrolment in a retirement savings plan would get a lot more people to start saving, but that it might also lead to a decrease in aggregate savings, since the default saving rate is typically very low, often around 3 percent. I wanted to test out my hunch, but Brigitte Madrian tested it out first and did a superb job.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… an unhappy architect. I love good architecture, but if it was my profession then it would no longer be a fun hobby. I would have to pay the bills and deal with clients.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… is increasing our impact. How do we take these proven behavioral insights and scale them up? How do we solve big societal problems around health care or retirement savings or education? In my future work, I’m going to explore how we can use the digital revolution to accelerate the pace of change. With digitai.org, I want to test out new digital interventions that will help consumers, businesses and policymakers leverage all of this new research. I think that smartphone in your pocket represents a tremendous opportunity to help people think better and make better choices, but we have to get it right.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… not to listen to me! Every young researcher needs to tailor their journey to their particular set of skills, interests and weaknesses. Find your own passion. Don’t follow mine.

Departmental website | Digitai.org

SJDM 2013: InDecision team recommends…

SJDM toronto picGreetings from Toronto and the annual conference for the Society for Judgment and Decision Making! With the help of the InDecision team, we’ll be covering the best bits of the conference for you if you couldn’t make it (and even if you are here, we’ll have something for you, too). With dozens of great sessions on offer this weekend, choice overload is pretty much guaranteed. But fear not: we’ve scoured the program and selected the best ones to help you make the most of the conference. Here’s where you’ll find the InDecision team this weekend…

caroline new resizedCaroline’s picks

Research and Academia (Session #7) Questionable research practices. Misunderstanding or misuse of statistics. Lack of reproducibility. Many academic fields are currently going through several research-related crises and controversies. Different solutions are being proposed to improve the ways we conduct research, but I sometimes find it hard to keep up with all the suggested improvements for our different research practices. That is why I am always looking forward to conference sessions that can help me stay up to date with the most recent developments. The four papers presented in the session cover important issues, such as the replicabilitiy and reliability of behavioral research findings, and, most importantly, provide interesting solutions that I am really looking forward to learning more about. How to find it: Sunday, November 17, 2:45-4:15 pm, Civic South

The Relationship Between Altruism and Personal Benefits (Session #4) The existence of altruism, or whether humans can ever transcend self-interest, is an age-old question that is constantly being debated across different fields. It is a debate that I find quite interesting, so I am always drawn to conference sessions that provide new ideas, or revisit old ones, on the topic. I find this session particularly interesting because it explores the interplay between altruism and personal benefit and provides interesting findings about how perceived self-interested motives or outcomes can taint the judgment of seemingly altruistic behavior, among others. I am really looking forward to learning more about how this impacts people’s judgment and performance of altruistic or prosocial behavior, and whether there are any ways to overcome these effects. How to find it: Saturday, November 16, 3:15-4:45 pm, Simcoe/Dufferin

elina resizedElina’s picks

Applying Behavioral Economics in the Field: Nudging Customers to Pay their Credit Card Dues The fact that this session is talking about a large-scale field experiment makes this session unmissable for me to two reasons. The primary reason is that for me field experiments represent an exciting new phase for the field itself: after years spent in the lab it’s time to migrate to the outside world to see how our ideas perform in reality. It’s risky because we can’t control everything so the level of noise is likely to be high, and we have to find partners for it which brings its own complications. This bridge between academia and practice is one that I feel we need to cross to ensure the relevance of our work to the outside world, which ultimately defines the value of our work through funding. On a personal level I’m also interested in hearing about the practical challenges of running such studies as it’s close to my own research interests both as a PhD student and practitioner so I’m hoping to get some great ideas and inspiration from this talk. How to find it: Saturday 16th November, 3.15-4.45pm, Session #4 Track Ι: Choice Architecture 2 – Willow East

The Impact of Comparison Frames and Category Width On Strength of Preferences This session is definitely one I’ll be listening to with my practitioner hat on: understanding the strength of consumers’ preferences is at the heart of my work as a market research consultant. We know already that how options are presented to people changes how they perceive them, but when it comes to a real-life client scenario, it’s absolutely crucial to understand the nuances of how consumers make these comparisons to help advise our clients to emphasise the right attributes of a product. This might seem manipulative or even sinister, but just think for a moment about a product you really like: what if the “wrong” communication would have meant you’d never discovered that product? How to find it: Monday 18th November, 9.45-11.15am, Session #8 Track 2: Consumer Decision Making – Civic South

leigh resizedLeigh’s picks

Are risk and delay psychologically equivalent? Testing a common process account of risky and inter-temporal choice Research that unifies previously disparate effects is always interesting to me – because my instinct as a mathematician is to work towards ever more general and simpler (and therefore more powerful) models. If inter-temporal choice can be explained by the same process as probabilistic decisions, it takes us one step closer to understanding decisions in a coherent way. And this does seem a logical step: some accounts explain hyperbolic discounting as a rational response to the riskiness of a delayed reward – maybe if I hold off on eating the marshmallow and wait to get two of them, some unknown event will intervene and I won’t get any! However, it seems that these researchers have found evidence to counter this unification. I’ll be intrigued to hear what alternatives they put forward. How to find it: Saturday 16th November, 8.30-10am, Session #1 Track 2: Risk 1 – Essex

Partitioning option menus to nudge single-item choice This talk is interesting for me both for my consulting work with some commercial clients, and also because it feels like it could help understand how we compose small intermediate steps into larger decisions. Many complex decisions have various parts, and forcing people to unpack those individual steps (for instance by listing individual options separately rather than allowing people to integrate them into one bigger choice) may reveal some of the internal processes that are not directly observable. Classical decision theory (as used in rational economic modelling) assumes that separate choices can simply be added up to come to an overall totality of decisions, but the results of this paper seem to provide more confirmation that this doesn’t work. Seeing the differences between low-level and high-level choices may help us figure out a better way to put individual decisions together in a model and predict social behaviour. How to find it: Saturday 16th November, 10.30am-12pm, Session #2 Track 1 Choice Architecture 1 – Willow East

shereen resizedShereen’s picks

As a behavioral decision researcher, I am interested in finding behavioral solutions to policy-relevant problems. Indeed, I learned at APPAM this past weekend that there is a lot of room for behavioral research in the policy arena. With that in mind when looking at the SJDM program, I am focusing on talks that (1) investigate the practical elements that influence choice, or (2) identify either a behavioral problem or behavioral solution in a policy-relevant domain. For now, the talks in choice architecture (both of them) and financial decision-making are on the top of my list.

The first session on choice architecture addresses abstract but broadly relevant topics in choice architecture. These talks seem key to understanding basic concepts in this area such as defaults and choice sets. The second session on choice architecture delves into more area-specific interventions on choice and their effectiveness. These choice architecture talks have more direct relevance for policy, marketing, or other applications. With the recent formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2011, it is clear that policy-makers are concerned about the way people make financial decisions. The talks in the financial decision-making session speak directly to this concern with a series of experiments that either identify the obstacles people face in considering their finances and/or provide some way to mitigate these problems.

How to find them: Choice Architecture I – (Saturday, Nov 16, Track I, Session #2, 10:30am-11:50am); Choice Architecture II –  (Saturday, Nov 16, Track I, Session #4, 3:15pm-4:35pm); Financial Decision Making – (Saturday, Nov 16, Track III, Session #5, 5:15pm – 6:35pm)

troy resizedTroy’s picks

Cruel nature: Harmfulness as an overlooked dimension in judgments of moral standing “Cruel Nature” promises to be a great talk and not just because of its slick title. The talk will tackle an already controversial topic (the basis of morality) and throw an additional wrench into the puzzle (people respond to animals with moral emotions). The talk will be big in scope, have a good literature review, and will to lend itself to fiery conversation (or at least that’s how the talk played out when it was presented in multi-school Moral Research Lab). Piazza and colleagues propose that “harmful intent cannot be reducible to agency.” They use scenario studies featuring non human subjects like sharks to test and show this. This talk will ultimately try to critique the Agency-Patient model of morality, a model that is already a very new critique of also still relatively new Moral Foundations model of morality. With sharks, controversy and morality, even if you disagree with the speakers’ claims (and probably many people will), you’re guaranteed to have a good time. How to find it: Saturday 16th November, 1.30-3pm, Session #3 Track Ι: Morality and Ethics 1 – Willow East

Selfish or selfless? On the signal value of emotion in altruistic behavior This talk promises to be fascinating as it shows that the general populace holds a view of morality that widely differs from the view of morality most academics hold. Us ‘rational’ academics tend to think about morality like a math equation, where people sacrifice for others and don’t get any benefits – e.g. gifts or feeling a positive “helpers’ high” emotion. However, Barasch and colleagues show this is not the case. People actually think feeling a “helpers’ high” is a authentic signal of concern for others and are suspicious of the unemotional helper (e.g. the person many academics praise). The researchers do however show a boundary of this attribution which can help us understand where people in general see the line between selfish and selflessness in helping. How to find it: Saturday 16th November, 3:15-4:45 pm, Session #4 Track 3.

[N.B. Please check all session and presentation times in the official program before attending as typos may have slipped in!]

Final notes…

  • We’re covering the conference here (with a delay) as well as on Twitter both through @InDecision_Blog and our individual contributors: @RouxCaroline, @infomagpie, @leighblue and @troyhcampbell – conference hashtag is #sjdm2013
  • Don’t miss the Graduate Student Social Event on Saturday 16th from 6.45-8.45pm at the Willow Centre!
  • The InDecision dinner (featuring talks with three practitioners) on Saturday 16th still has 4 places left – please email elina@theirrationalagency.com asap if you want to join!
  • If you have any feedback on the blog or would like to get involved, please come speak to us – we’d love to hear from you!

ACR 2013 – What to Look Forward To

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 3.35.00 PMCo-Chairs Simona Botti and Aparna Labroo along with their team will bring innovation to Chicago this year for ACR 2013.

Not only are they embracing technology, but they are bringing new types of sessions and pushing new themes, especially the overall “Making a Difference” theme. There’s a lot at this conference. But here’s some of the many things to look forward to.

For those not attending, don’t worry – we will be live tweeting and blogging the highlights as well as providing in-depth summaries of the biggest talks and surprises of the conference online following the end of the conference. So keep it locked at Indecision Blog. Follow our RSS feed or follow @Indecision_Blog if you don’t already to keep in the loop.

Working Paper Session +  Submit Yours for Online Publication


Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 3.36.29 PM

The working paper session takes place at 6:30pm on Friday night and is co-chaired by Leonard Lee and Wendy Liu. It’s a great place to connect with the youngest researchers in our field. But the connection won’t stop at the conference this year.

Indecision Blog is letting you publish online.  Maybe “publish” is not the right world, but we want you to post a PDF copy of your poster here online. If you want to share your blossoming research with the world then send us a PDF copy of the file via email to indecisionblogging@gmail.com or via twitter to @Indecision_Blog. (Also send us a full APA formatted citation for the poster.) Sometime after ACR check back to IndecisionBlog.com for a list of posters so you can connect with and learn from other young researchers.

 Film Festival

From Cuba, to electronic music, to running barefoot, the film festival explores consumption in artsy, fun, and direct ways. Bonus, right now you can check out the trailers and full cuts online through the links here. Even if you are hardcore experimental researcher, the film sessions are a great way to spend an hour or so of your time. See our full preview on the film festival here.

The film festival takes place through the conference and is co-chaired by Marylouise Caldwell and Paul Henry.

 An Amazing After Party

 house of bluesA special message from the entertainment committee…

“This year, a special highlight of the ACR conference will be the Grand Finale party at the House of Blues. In prior years, the ACR Grand Finale has entertained and delighted guests with works of Warhol (Pittsburgh, 2009), 5 story slides (St. Louis, 2011) and undersea creatures of all kinds (Vancouver, 2012). However, the ACR 2013 entertainment committee agreed we could do better.

To do so, we put together a magical evening of drinks (open bar!) and tomfoolery set the musical stylings of some of ACR’s own.  That’s right, people who have reviewed your papers will be performing live on stage at one of Chicago’s most celebrated venues. Wondering who will be on stage?  Show up and find out! 

Tickets are limited for this night-to-remember, so bring your camera phones, arrive early and stay late!”

The entertainment committee is: Kelly Goldsmith, Tom Meyvis, Leif Nelson, and Joachim Vosgerau.

Details: GRAND FINALE @ HOUSE OF BLUES

Saturday, 7:30pm – midnight

329 N. Dearborn St., between Kinzie St. and Wacker Dr.

Food, Open Bar, Brand Inequity Live Concert, DJ Ash

Tickets limited.

The Forums

palmer

This year the forums expand to include Perspectives, Roundtables, and Workshops.

The Perspectives bring together leaders in specific research domains (e.g. motivation, identity, and social influence) to discuss the “greatest hits” of their own research. Come see people discuss some of the most important ideas to our field in greater depth than ever before at ACR.

The Roundtables – Though not new to ACR, but the topics are always fresh and varied. The roundtables feature a bunch (like around 14 sometimes) professors talking about a specific hot topic such as applied research or neuroscience. It’s a great place to see great minds express raw ideas and opinions.

The Workshops are the “how-to” on the nitty-gritties of the research process such as data collection, data analysis, the famous/infamous moderation-mediation analysis, reviewing, and even videography. The Forums take place throughout the conference and the Forums at large are co-chaired by Anirban Mukhopadhyay and David Wooten.

The Doctoral Consortium

g1Featuring the ever nerve-racking speed dating and other professor interactions, you are just guaranteed to have an amazing conversation with a professor. Plus, your likely to leave with a “you can’t believe where our conversation went” story to tell about another professor.

Here an Indecision Blog we love consortiums because they try to get at the same things we care about on this website: sharing a diversity of opinions and providing support and inspiration for young researchers.

The Doctoral Consortium occurs on Thursday before the actual conference begins and is intended for Ph.D students. This promises to be the most covered session by Indecision Blog this year. Check back online for interviews, summaries, and more. The Doctoral Consortium is chaired by Derek Rucker and Jaideep Sengupta.

Mid-Career Mentorship Program

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 3.43.18 PM

This year, ACR addresses the long forgotten middle child in our field. While much effort gets put into equipping young researchers, those in the middle often get very little guidance.  ACR changes that with a short workshop by Nidhi Agrawal and Jonathan Levav.

The new initiative is meant to enable pre-tenure and recently tenured faculty to discuss topics such as making an impact, mentoring students, and life after tenure with senior colleagues. The idea is that these people don’t need a lot of guidance, so they don’t need an entire day like the doctoral students get, but a couple hours might be useful.

The event takes place on Thursday from 2pm to 4:30pm.

In The Wild: Steve Tatham

15POG-UNCLASS-20121025-0125 Firmin Sword of Peace Presentaion at HMS PresidentThis week in In The Wild we’re featuring Commander Steve Tatham, a specialist in managing strategic communication and behavioural influence campaigns. He joined the Royal Navy in 1990 and has seen operational service in Sierra Leone (2000), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2001-2013). His military appointments have included Command of 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group, Military Liaison Officer to the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Strategic Horizons Unit, exchange to New Zealand and a specialist research secondment to the UK Defence Academy.  Afloat he has served in HMS Illustrious, HMS Invincible and HMS Plover.  He holds both a PhD and MPhil in International Relations, the latter from St John’s College Cambridge, and is the author of two books: Losing Arab Hearts & Minds (2006) and Behavioural Conflict (2011).  In 2013 he co-founded the Influence Advisory Panel (www.x-iap.com), a forum to bring together the best academics and global practitioners of strategic influence. He leaves the Royal Navy in Spring 2014 to pursue a career in business.

Tell me about your work: how does decision making psychology fit in it? In the military we change our postings about every two to three years. Up until February this year I was the Commanding Officer of 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group. Our role was to try and understand behaviours, exhibited and latent, amongst audiences in Helmand in Afghanistan. So for example we would try to understand why people might grow poppies or support the Taliban. In each case we would try to positively influence that behaviour – encourage them not to grow poppy, not to support the Taliban. Despite the groups name it was a big surprise when I took command to find there were no psychologists on the team! We had to very quickly understand some quite complex social science and start applying it on military operations. However one of the first things I did in command was to bring in a trained psychologist to help us in our work – and I sent them to Afghanistan to understand the problems we faced on the ground. Armed with our research our job was to provide the commander of British forces in Afghanistan with alternative solution to his particular day-to-day operational problems. Sometimes he would like them, sometimes he did not but we had a pretty good success rate which is why my unit was awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace – a prestigious award presented to the military unit who has done the most to help and support local communities on operations.

How did you first become interested in decision making psychology? I have been involved almost continuously in military operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan since the terrible events of 9/11in 2001. I became convinced very quickly that our biggest single problem was that we did not understand the people we were working with, for and sometimes against .. Afghans and Iraqis. I became really interested in why people chose to behave in specific ways – which we often would label as being irrational. Of course it was only irrational to us; to them their behaviour was invariably completely rational. So I began a bit of a journey to try and find why people behaved as they did and why we were not very good at understanding. That journey ended in my writing a PhD on the subject and co-authoring a book (Behavioural Conflict – Why Understanding People and Their Motivations Will Prove Decisive in Future conflict). People tell me I am now an ‘expert ‘ which is a terrible title to have as the subject is too broad and too complex for anyone to become truly expert. Besides, I always say that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king!

What type of research do you find most interesting, useful or exciting? I am absolutely fascinated by Target Audience Analysis.. The science of understanding people’s actions and motivations and then applying subtle influence interventions to make the bad good and the good better. I love the fact that the most obscure and counter intuitive interventions can often have profound effects. For example in South America the Colombian government wanted to increase the number of FARC rebels laying down their weapons and giving up violence. One of the ways they did it was by running trip wires on remote jungle paths that when triggered illuminated huge Christmas trees in the jungle with messages reminding the rebels that their loved ones missed them. The idea was that it would remind the rebels about the life they had left behind, their families, their religion and for what result – loneliness, fear and violence? And it worked.. Many rebels told government officials that the reason they had turned themselves in was because of the Christmas trees and feeling lonely at a very special time of year. People associate the armed forces with the application of controlled violence and of course ultimately that is what we are trained to do. But it is expensive and, of course, dangerous. I like the idea very much that we can use new and evolving science to achieve our objectives, perhaps even stop conflict happening in the first place, without resorting to conflict.

Do you see any challenges to the wider adoption of decision making psychology in your field? What we do is way outside conventional military operations and is often not understood by our seniors. I am always having to try and sell to them the benefits of targeted influence campaigns and it can be a bit frustrating at times. One of the reasons for this is that results often take a long time to become apparent where as with conventional military weaponry you know pretty quickly what happened! However I am proud to say that I have had a hand in changing the British and NATO armed forces doctrine from an attitudinal outlook (i.e. if we can make people like us they will behave in a positive manner) to one that recognises that attitudes are very temporal and not really very good indicators of future behaviour.

How do you see the relationship between academic researchers and practitioners? Well it’s tricky. We very much need that steady flow of new ideas and thinking but theory alone very often translates badly into actual practice on military operations so we need our researchers to have a very good understanding of what we actually do on the ground and the constraints that exist. Sometimes it can just be environmental issues – researchers may have no comprehension of what working in 50 degree temperatures in Helmand can be like and the effect it may have the programme that they have recommended. On other occasions it can be political or operational security constraints which will always trump theoretical research. That’s why when I was with 15(UK) PsyOps I made a point of sending one of our attached psychologists to Helmand to see what was going on. The rubber of theory often has a very bumpy ride on the Tarmac of reality! However it is absolutely vital that those ideas keep flowing through to us. We must remain upto date with the latest thinking, even if we cannot apply it immediately. We often say we are the best trained armed forces in the world and I think that is true – mind you I would say that wouldn’t I! – however training needs to be accompanied by good and continuous education. It’s a fast changing world out there; just look at what has happened in cyber space in the last ten years. We need people who understand the science and who are prepared to push its boundaries to help us keep abreast of it.

What advice would you give to young researchers who might be interested in a career in your field? That’s not such an easy question because research is not one of the armed forces key outputs – we are however consumers and there are a number of organisations that exist to support and help. So young researchers may want to look at careers in, for example, Defence Science Technology Laboratories (DSTL) who exist, as a government funded body across a range of departments and functions, to provide scientific support. We also work closely with the UK Defence Academy in Wiltshire and with Cranfield University – both of these organisations recruit researchers. Oh, and I can thoroughly recommend joining the Royal Navy too!

 Website | LinkedIn

All the profits from the book go to the charity Help For Heroes.

Research Heroes: Barbara Summers

barbara%20summersBarbara Summers is a Senior Lecturer in Decision Making at Leeds University Business School, UK, where she also serves as co-Director of the Centre for Decision Research. She has recently been elected to serve as President Elect of the European Association for Decision Making (EADM), and currently serves on the Society’s Board as Member at Large. Her research focuses on individual decision making from both cognitive and emotional perspectives, with application areas in health, marketing and pensions. Her work benefits from her previous commercial experience as Head of Systems Development at Equifax Europe UK.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…… the advantages of walking and patience. Sometimes projects take a while to get going; you have an idea, but investigating it leads into slightly unfamiliar territory so you feel there is a lot of literature to get through. Or you might feel you have lots of bits of the puzzle but can’t see how they fit together. It’s human nature to want results quickly and to feel disheartened in these situations, but don’t – this sort of project can be the most interesting in the long run, so it’s worth being patient and working through it. I find the best way to trigger the “eureka” moment when the bits click into place is to stop thinking. Walking while not focusing on your thoughts or sleeping are really good ways to do this. The idea of sleeping on a problem usually works for me (and recharges your batteries).

I most admire academically… because…There are a lot of people, but the work of Kahneman and Tversky on Prospect Theory had the biggest effect on me. I had been doing work in another field and realized that this theory gave a better explanation of some data I had than the traditional explanations in the literature. I was converted and decided to investigate the area further – well worth it! There are many others as I explore different aspects of decision making, but this was the first.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…/the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….There are so many different ways a project can be best – and I have been lucky enough to have quite a range of experiences. Some projects broaden your ideas of how the world works (I feel this about the work I’m doing now on emotion), while others can produce real world impacts that are satisfying to see (I did work on a project producing decision aids for patients, for example, and another project helped a company predict and respond to customer needs better). Some projects can just be a good experience in terms of getting to know others. I try to see the best in all of them.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…/the one project that I should never had done…If you are doing research then some projects are not going to work. You might not get the results you want, you might even get results that prove you wrong. It’s frustrating, but most projects have some value in the longer term. The bad ones are ones you don’t enjoy working on.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….… is always the bit where the predicted results happen – I get a real buzz every time, because you now understand the world a little better.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…I used to be involved in organizing a professional conference (while an academic) and there was a project that needed real managers to take part in the research. I suggested we might use the future delegates for the conference, and we could give a talk on the results in my session in exchange for their participation. The project was trying to identify ways in which professional managers’ decisions in a particular field (to do with corporate failure/ creditworthiness) demonstrated expertise, and to make it more interesting we also got groups of lecturers who taught techniques for making similar decisions, and their students, along with a group of lay people to provide a comparison. The professional society helped us distribute the questionnaires and we put the talk in the program. Then the results came in. Lecturers and students generally performed better than the professional managers on the tasks, and in fact the managers were barely better than lay people (who really knew nothing about the subject area). Welcome to the conference talk from Hell – we had to stand up and tell people (who paid to be there) that they were hopeless at a job related task!

In the end things were not so bad. The obvious “How can this have happened?” response gave way to an investigation of how the task (which the managers thought was important) fitted into their role as a whole, and led to an understanding that their real expertise was not in getting the right answer in the first place, but in managing the relationship with the company they assessed for credit as it developed (so these skills made more difference). We even managed to get a laugh when we gave the talk! I probably have told this to some people, so apologies if you heard it before…

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…I’ve not given up yet on any project I wish I’d done yet. If I still wish I’d done it, I still hope to manage it. Sometimes things drop off the list because I realise they won’t do what I want, but that’s it.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be……probably back (or still) in the commercial world. I spent a lot of time in Business Analyst type roles doing quite a lot of greenfield development projects, where the company was moving into new territory or the client wanted to do something but didn’t have anything in place. These have quite a lot in common with research, certainly in the thinking process, so are fun. Some of the ones I was involved in were international joint ventures, so I got some chance to travel and see other perspectives. Not quite as much fun as academia, but still fun.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Getting the real world more widely engaged. We’ve had a burst of interest in behavioral work in the UK, with the government setting up a Nudge unit. There are however a lot of fields where more behavioral aspects could give real benefits in solving real world problems (like helping people make informed decisions), and in benefitting business too. Students who’ve taken the Management Decision Making course run by our centre regularly report how useful it is in their careers from interview stage on, giving them a perspective on avoiding pitfalls in decision making (I wish I had done it before being a manager myself!). I see many opportunities, but we need to keep up momentum to get there.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Enjoy what you do – you do better on projects that catch your imagination. Make contacts and work with others – ideas develop faster with more than one person thinking about them. Establish what you need to get to where you want to be. When I got my first lecturing post the Dean of my School gave me a list of promotion criteria for the next grade up and told me to start ticking them off as soon as possible. I found this really helpful in getting established, as someone moving across from industry, but I think it would have helped anyway. If you’re in this position, I wish you all the success in the world and have great time – academia is a great job.

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