Research Heroes: Jonathan Baron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Heroes: John W. Payne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Departmental website | TED talk

Research Heroes: Chris Hsee


Next in our series of Research Heroes is Christopher K. Hsee, the Theodore O. Yntema Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business who received his PhD in psychology from Yale University in 1993. He conducts research in areas ranging from happiness and consumer behavior to management and cross-cultural issues. His research has been published in a wide range of journals; his recent publications explore topics such as when and why people over-work and over-earn, when and why free competition is bad, and when and why people avoid idleness and seek busyness.
I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that the purpose of doing research should not be just to publish papers or to impress other researchers, but to have a positive influence on people in the real world.

I most admire academically Daniel Kahneman and Dick Thaler, because
 their research has profound influences both inside and outside the academia. 

The research that I am most identified with is probably research on evaluability and joint-vs.-single evaluation, on feeling- vs. calculation-based decisions (with Yuval Rottenstreich), and on culture (with Elke Weber), but recently I have become increasingly interested in conducting research that explores messy and rich real-world issues in controlled and minimalistic lab settings. For example, my co-authors and I have studied when people over-work and over-earn (forthcoming in Psychological Science), when free competition makes people unhappy (forthcoming in OBHDP), why idleness is bad and how to make people busy and happy (2010 in Psychological Science), and what factors have an absolute effect on happiness and what factors have only a relative effect on happiness (2009 in the Journal of Marketing Research). 

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…  There must be such projects, but I can’t think of any now. I must have suppressed my memories of bad projects.
The most amazing and memorable research-related experience occurred when I was not doing research, but riding a bus, many years ago. The bus was traveling up and down on a hilly road, and I started to wonder how feelings change in response to changes in external stimuli. This question led to the research I conducted at graduate school on the effects of dynamic properties of changing stimuli (such as the trend, the velocity and the acceleration of stock movements) on hedonic experiences (1991 in JPSP; 1994 in JESP).
The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… If I haven’t told such a story, chances are that there isn’t such a story.
A research project I wish I had done… I wish I could do some social experiments to answer big questions, such as what types of modern technologies improve human well-being in the long run and what types hurt it in the long run; whether people would be happier or less happy overall if they could eat ten meals a day without being unhealthy; whether there would be more love or more hatred in the world if everybody became bisexual, etc.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be an artist. In many aspects, conducting research is like painting — both require observations, insight, and creativity; both seek to capture what’s fleeting and turn it into what’s eternal. (My teenage daughter is a better artist than I am – she did the sketch of me for this blog.)
The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years will be to apply psychological research in general and JDM research in particular to addressing important real world issues and helping enhance the well-being of people.
My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is  do not confine yourself to the library or to the lab. Explore the world, talk to different people and experience different things. Good ideas often come when you are strolling aimlessly on a country road, or debating with your MBA students, or helping the homeless, or chatting with a cab driver, or listening to Shostakovich.

Research Heroes: Richard Thaler

This week in our interview series is Richard H. Thaler, Ralph and Dorothyfrthaler Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioural Science and Economics at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He received his PhD in 1974 from the University of Rochester and joined University of Chicago in 1995 after stints at The University of British Columbia, the Sloan School of Management at MIT, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford as well as teaching at University of Cornell. While perhaps best known for the global best seller Nudge, his extensive research spans from behavioural finance to tackling many of society’s major problems with concepts from behavioural economics. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career how to go about combining economics and psychology. There was no road map. Mostly trial and error with lots of errors.

I most admire academically… My greatest inspiration came from Kahneman and Tversky, my mentors who became my friends and collaborators. Danny is still a source of inspiration, going full speed at 78. They were a fantastic team because of their complementary skills, but they were both perfectionists in their different ways. I owe my career to them directly, but in some ways so does the entire field.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… This is like asking a parent to name his favorite child. Not fair. So I will fudge and name more than one. I think mental accounting is probably my best “idea”. Save More Tomorrow is my most important practical application. The book Nudge has reached the widest audience and had the most impact. But truth be told my favorite single paper is the one with Cade Massey on the NFL draft called the “Loser’s Curse”. The great thing about being an academic is that you can write a paper on anything. Certainly the paper that was the most fun to work on (or not work on) was the one with Eldar Shafir called “Invest Now, Drink Later, Spend Never”. Eldar and I didn’t work on it for a solid week in Venice one year. It is about the mental accounting of wine consumption. I still devote a lot of time to that problem!

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… There is nothing in print that I would want to take back. I have abandoned lots of projects. I believe in ignoring sunk costs. As I tell my MBA students: “Ignore sunk costs. Assume everyone else doesn’t.”

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… I gave a talk on the idea for Save More Tomorrow to a large (>500) group of 401(k) plan administrators in 1996 or so, thinking that at least one one of them would think enough of the idea to try it. Then nothing happened for several years. Very frustrating. Then out of the blue Shlomo Benartzi told me that someone he knew had tried it without even telling us, and the results were fantastic. That was exciting because once we could show people that the idea worked, it was (relatively) easy to get others to try it. Now it is used by millions of people, but we had to get the first employer to try it or we would still be wondering if it would really work.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… No such thing. But I am putting all those stories into a book I am working on, so stay tuned. The working subtitle is “The Stories of Behavioral Economics”.

A research project I wish I had done… My phd thesis was on the value of saving a life. The idea was to estimate how much you had to pay people to get them to accept a small increase in risk. So, I did an econometrics exercise regressing wages on occupational mortality rates. But the really clean study to do, as suggested by my buddy Richard Zeckhauser, would be to get people to play Russian Roulette, with a machine gun with many, many chambers (say 10,000). Then tell people there are 5 bullets in the gun, how much would you pay to remove one, or accept to add one. For some reason, no human subject committee has ever been willing to approve this project. Can’t imagine why! (Before I get into trouble, this was intended as a joke.)

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… Less happy. I feel lucky to have found a way to make a living that is so much fun to do. Who knows what else, but I did think about going to law school instead of economics graduate school. I don’t think I would have been a great lawyer though. I suffer from a diplomacy deficiency.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is… I see two. First, JDMers need to learn to get out of the lab some of the time (and journal editors need to encourage such risky activity by applying appropriately different standards to field experiments). The stuff we study is too important and useful for it to be limited to the lab.

Second, I fear that the science-lab model in which increasing numbers of grad students are added to shrinkingly important papers in order to supply graduate students with enough publications to go on the job market. I think this trend stifles creativity and does not encourage students to do enough thinking on their own. More generally, I think psychologists are just publishing too many small papers. Look at the number of papers Kahneman and Tversky wrote that created and defined the field we now call judgment and decision making. The judgment stuff was really 3 papers plus the Science recapitulation. Then came prospect theory. Four blockbusters that led to a Nobel Prize. Not enough for tenure these days! Amos had a line about people that he felt wrote too many papers: “he publishes his waste basket”. I don’t think he would approve of the current state of affairs.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Work on your own ideas, not your advisor’s ideas (or at least in addition to her ideas). And spend more time thinking and less time reading. Too much reading leads people to think of small variations on existing studies. Admittedly my strategy of writing the paper first and only then reading the literature (or, more likely, letting the referees tell me what they think I should have read) is an extreme one, but it is better than trying to read everything. Try writing the first paper on some topic, not the tenth, and never the 50th.

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Research Heroes: George Loewenstein

Following on from the great start by Hal Arkes, next in our series of father and son (1)research heroes is George Loewenstein who is the Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. After receiving his PhD from Yale University in 1985, he has held academic positions at The University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University, among many others. He is considered as one of the founders of the field of behavioral economics and more recently of the field of neuroeconomics. Like Hal Arkes, he is also past president of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making. His prolific research focuses on applications of psychology to economics, with specific interests in e.g. decision making over time, psychology and health, the role of emotion in decision making, the psychology of curiosity. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that everything was going to turn out fine.  Of course no one could have told me, because no one knew, and people probably did tell me, but I didn’t believe them.  But, it pains me to think of all the unnecessary anguish I went through being uncertain, and even doubtful, about how things would turn out.  Some insecurity is probably motivating, but too much is counterproductive.  So, I would say “don’t sweat it; it’s not worth it.” Brave men die once, cowards a thousand times.  Be brave.

I most admire… Perhaps because I’m not much of a theorist myself, so theory seems a magical to me, I most admire Matthew Rabin, Botond Koszegi and Roland Benabou.  I admire Rabin and Koszegi because their models are so psychologically insightful; they make you see the world differently.   I admire Benabou because he produces incredibly elegant models about things that really matter, like groupthink and destructive ideologies, and because, with remarkably few and simple assumptions, his models inevitably generate an amazing range of sensible and nuanced predictions.

The best research project I have worked on during my career was really a set of projects that got started when Drazen Prelec and I spent a year together at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York.  We had met only once, briefly, before we were thrown together at RSF, living in adjoining apartment on the same floor of a building.  It was a fabulously stimulating and enjoyable collaboration that continues as a close friendship.  I miss it, though I can’t complain right now; at CMU I’m surrounded by the most remarkably stimulating and talented group of young researchers I have ever had the fortune to work with.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career was one I got involved in early on, as a result taking pity on a colleague at the University of Chicago who told me a terrible story of having been horribly abused by her last collaborator.  By the time we had completed the project, and it was a miracle that we did, I realized that I was working with someone who would always end up feeling mistreated by, and resentful toward, all her collaborators.  I learned the hard way that you can’t trust the narrative of a conflict when you only hear one side of it, and I also learned to only collaborate with people I was confident I would enjoy spending time with.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research was on a flight from Chicago to Islip, NY.  I used to take advantage of all opportunities for data collection and, on that flight, exploited proximity to all the bored people on the plane by distributing the different stimuli of an experiment to each row of travelers: “I am a professor at the University of Chicago, doing research on xx.  It would be very helpful to my research if you would answer these questions…”.  When the flight attendant figured out what I had done, she collected the surveys in a fury, apologizing profusely to the totally unperturbed travelers, told me that I would be arrested when we landed (which I didn’t take too seriously), and informed me that she was going to show the evidence of my crime (the surveys!) to the pilot.  As I was exiting the plane, checking to see if the police were waiting for me at the end of the exit ramp, the pilot came out of the cockpit, and, wearing a huge smile, told me that he was getting an MBA at the University of Chicago and wanted to hear more about the project.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…  In teaching, there have been ample opportunities to tell any stories I wanted to tell, and I’ve probably told too many (including, undoubtedly, unsuitable ones).

A research project I wish I had done… I was jogging with a friend and told him that, when I retired, I wanted to study sex.  He reminded me that I was tenured and had the freedom to do whatever I wanted; if I was so interested in studying sex, why would I wait till retirement?  I took his advice, so again I can’t answer the question.  Following his sage guidance, from that point on, if there is a research project I really want to do, regardless of what it is, I do it.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be a civil engineer designing bridges; I’ve always admired the beauty and functionality of bridges, and as a child I used to build bridges out of Lego, obsessively. I’m glad, however, that I’m doing what I’m doing – I’m a pretty good researcher but probably would have been a pathetic bridge designer.  If I ended up designing bridges at all, it would probably have been those ugly concrete monstrosities that span highways.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is digging some new foundations.  For forty years now, we have been largely building on the foundational insights of Kahneman and Tversky from the late 1970s.  Our field has proven incredibly dynamic in adapting to, and even pioneering new research methods – incentivized choice experiments, field studies, field experiments, neuroscience methods, big data… I think we need some really exciting new ideas to replace, or at least occupy a position beside the by-now old standbys – overconfidence, loss aversion, hyperbolic time discounting, etc..

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is exactly the same as Hal Arkes’ advice: work on topics you feel passionate about.  Intrinsic motivation is infinitely more compelling than extrinsic motivation.  The only (or at least best) way to put in the hours necessary to be a successful academic is to do research you are so excited about that, instead of forcing yourself to do it, you need to exercise self-control to get yourself to take a break.

Departmental website