Fall 2014

Fall 2014 Schedule

9-11-14 Rodney Hayward, Internal Medicine/SPH
Abstract: “Lies, damn lies and statistics.” The old adage is emblematic of people’s distrust of statistics, yet in recent years advanced statistics have proven useful over traditional approaches in areas as varied as Nate Silver’s work in political polling and advanced statistics in sports. The medical sciences have a history of being suspicious of statistics. As recently as the mid-1970s, the medical profession was largely resistant to relying on evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs), over clinical reasoning and experience, for guiding patient decisions. Although RCTs are now well established as the gold standard for assessing causal effects, recent research by our group and others has demonstrated how marked over- and under-treatment can result from over-reliance on the average results of RCTs. Clinical experts remain highly suspicious of using more advanced statistical methods in either the design or interpretation of RCTs. Further, “clinical experts”, who dominate national clinical guideline development, appear to be too heavily influenced by isolated modifiable risk factors, such as a person’s blood pressure or cholesterol level, even when it is clear that over-all risk is much more important than any individual risk factor. This bias has led to national guidelines that nonsensically do not recommended treatment to individuals whose expected benefit is 10 times higher than many of those for whom treatment is recommended.

In this talk, I will review real world errors in the interpretation of medical evidence and in the development of major medical guidelines, relate these errors to known cognitive biases and social and economic self-interests, and discuss potential structural approaches that could better inform medical evidence and clinical treatment guideline development.

9-18-14 Barbara Fredrickson
Abstract: Professor Barbara Fredrickson’s most recent research offers an innovative approach to understanding the multiple ways by which positive emotions promote physical health. Most known for her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which identifies positive emotions as key drivers of individual and collective resource building, Dr. Fredrickson builds on this earlier work to develop what she has called the upward spiral theory of lifestyle change. This new integrative model positions positive emotions as creating nonconscious and increasing motives for wellness behavior, rooted in enduring biological changes. The result is seemingly effortless maintenance of positive health behaviors. In this presentation, Dr. Fredrickson will describe the origins of and evidence for this new perspective on how positive emotions promote physical health. Implications for how best to promote positive lifestyle changes are illuminated.

9-25-14 Skip Lupia, Political Science
Abstract: People appear to know very little about politics and government. When asked any of a wide range of questions on these topics, millions give incorrect answers or no answer at all. People respond to this data in different ways. Some castigate the masses and discourage their political participation. Others seek a more constructive response. Thousands of individuals and organizations work to improve politically-relevant knowledge and competence. Experts, advocates, teachers, journalists, spiritual leaders, and scientists are amongst those who seek to offer information that helps others make better decisions. I am included in this group of educators. This presentation is for, and about, us. Its purpose is to help us achieve more of our educational aspirations.

10-02-2014 Ethan Schoolman, School of Natural Resources and Environment
Abstract: “Buying local” has been understudied, and therefore under-appreciated, as a form of ethical consumption. In fact, locally-focused purchasing is practiced more often and by a wider range of people than consumption motivated by concerns about the environment and workers rights. But I also find that links often presumed to exist between “buying local” and “buying green” are in fact quite tenuous: environmental goals play little part in the locally-focused purchasing that most people do. These findings challenge the idea that environmentalism and localism are complementary social movements, and raise questions about the environmental impacts of buying local. In related work, however, I also find that data on agricultural practices from the USDA Census of Agriculture suggest that the increased emphasis on local food markets by farmers in the past ten years may actually be associated with reduced applications of commercial fertilizer and chemical herbicides. In sum: the contours and consequences of “buy local” movements are complex and an important topic for people interested in ethical consumption.

10-16-14 Kristyn Karl, Political Science
Abstract: With numerous scholars expressing interest, and in some cases concern, over the impact of televised campaign ads on participation, it is vital that our understanding of the effects of political advertising be based on sound assumptions. Yet to date, research regarding emotion and politics relies almost exclusively upon self-reported measures. Using a randomized experiment with carefully manipulated campaign advertisements, I find evidence that an alternative measure of emotional response, physiological arousal, is a powerful predictor of participation among a particular segment of the population, political novices. Importantly, the findings suggest that arousal is not simply a proxy for self-reported emotion, but rather, a different and complementary measure of the emotional experience.

10-9-14 Raina Shah, Ergonomics
Abstract: Should food manufacturers provide warnings about sugar in foods? Should public health messages encouraging the use of sunscreen be tempered with information about the health benefits of sun exposure? Should ingredients always be listed on cosmetics and foods, even when they are thought to have no material impact on health? These are some examples of the types of questions facing manufacturers and government entities in today’s world. They center around larger questions such as the role of manufacturers in communicating information about public health risks, tradeoffs between simple versus more nuanced public health messages, and appropriate thresholds for providing information. In this session, we will discuss different perspectives that have been voiced on these issues and different approaches that have been taken. We will also talk about how these different approaches to providing information play into our decision-making as consumers.

10-23-14 Irwin Levin, Psychology
Abstract: During the formative years of my research career I was really turned on by the demonstration of simple but dramatic framing effects by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (later resulting in a Nobel Prize). Research in our lab on framing effects, or more generally differential reactions to potential gains and losses, now stretches out over 25 years. Looking back, our research typically starts out with the KISS principle of developing simple laboratory tasks that capture some interesting aspects of decision making. Inevitably, what has happened has been that these “simple” demonstrations raise more questions than they answer. How do you explain why results differ across different labs? Do lab findings possess external validity? Why do you and I make different decisions? What is the developmental trajectory of observed effects? Does the new “brain science” shed light on any of this? In my presentation I will discuss each of these questions and perhaps together we can pose new ones.

10-30-14 David Winters, Psychology
Abstract: The decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the only use of nuclear weapons in war—is usually judged one of the most consequential decisions of the 20th century. In an attempt to quell mounting controversy about the morality of using the atomic bomb, former Secretary of the Army Henry Stimson laid out the reasons for the decision in a 1947 Harper’s Magazine article (actually ghost-written by McGeorge Bundy).
When the Hiroshima decision is examined closely, however, many problems and complexities arise. This presentation will discuss some of these issues: What was “the” decision? Who made it? What were their reasons—publicly stated, unacknowledged, even unconscious? How was information sought, used, and ignored? What justifications were later given? These questions challenge abstract models of decision-making, and suggest research agendas for the study of complex real-world decisions.
After considering these matters, I conclude by commenting on whether and how the Hiroshima decision really was consequential.

11-6-14: Pamela Giustinelli, Social Research
Abstract: Predicting group decisions under uncertainty requires disentangling (i) the utility valuations individual members assign to the consequences of choice, (ii) the subjective probabilities they hold about the relevant uncertainties, and (iii) the decision process they use as a group. If present and modeled, limited information, ‘real’ uncertainty, and strategic social interactions will generally complicate things further. While challenging, telling some of these mechanisms apart is important for conducting counterfactual and policy analysis.
The presentation will cover two studies, addressing the above issues within the context of child-parent choice of high school track with curricular specialization. The first study presents and estimates simple Bayesian models of child-parent decision making under subjective risk–corresponding to unilateral or multilateral decision processes–where identification is achieved by combining standard data on families’ actual choices with novel survey information about children’s and parents’ subjective probabilities over choice consequences, their individually preferred choices, and their roles in the decision.
The second study (data collection completed, analysis in progress) builds on and expands the first, by longitudinally following families over the decision process and by introducing measures of alternatives’ (un)awareness, belief ambiguity, and interactions between children, parents, and other relevant actors.

11-13-14: Francine Dolins, Behavioral Sciences
Abstract: Foraging primates localize resources across ecologically complex landscapes, exploiting feeding sites of varying spatial dimensions to balance navigational efficiency and energy costs with nutrient intake, seasonal availability, competition and group size. Generation of navigational strategies and spatial representations in large- and small-scale space were predicted to differ by distance between landmarks, geometric features, and associations encoded. Comparing navigational strategies in environments of varied spatial scale and across species presents significant methodological challenges. In this study we compared four captive chimpanzees and 16 humans in virtual environments that varied in scale but displayed parallel landmark information. Results indicate that both chimpanzee and human participants applied topological strategies in both small- and large-scale space. They did not demonstrate shifts in spatial strategy in relation to scale or resource distribution.

11-20-14 Precious Smith,Psychology
Abstract: Parents make daily decisions about toys as they mediate a constant barrage of requests while frequently cleaning, winnowing, and changing the collections as children age or items accumulate. Given the significant amount of time, money, and space devoted to toys, we should investigate the utility of toy collections. We surveyed caregivers on the types and amounts of toys in the home, how often their child plays with them, and their feelings about toys along with trait measures of hoarding, materialism, and voluntary simplicity. Across two studies, most people had toys in every room (not on purpose) and felt “overwhelmed” by their collection. Kids spent most of their playtime using electronics/TV and exploring (over concrete toys). Some parents were largely positive, lower on hoarding and materialism, and had smaller toy collections (but higher social desirability) while others were largely negative, higher on hoarding and materialism, and with larger collections than they wanted due to more gifting and impulsive acquisition. There was also an intermediate, ambivalent group. Toys can have a positive impact, but for some people quality of life and happiness may be improved by consciously reducing toy acquisition to focus on items that are most often used and enjoyed.