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Ben Newell

Associate Professor of Psychology, University of New South Wales

Author of Straight Choices

Dr. Ben Newell is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of New South Wales. His research interests include judgment and decision making, optimality, rationality, insight, and the implicit / explicit distinction in categorization, learning, memory and knowledge. He is currently an Associate Editor of Memory & Cognition, on the Editorial Boards of Thinking & Reasoning and Experimental Psychology and a Consulting Editor for Judgment & Decision Making

Q> Please discuss the interesting findings from your research

Dr. Newell > The question motivating my research is very simple: how do people use information in their heads and in the environment to decide on the ‘right’ course of action? Answering this question is not as simple as it might at first appear. The answer depends on what we mean by ‘right’ (rational – but in what sense?), by what we mean by ‘information’, and by how we demarcate external (the outside world) and internal (the mental world) environments. My approach has been to adopt simplified experimental tasks in which, to a large extent, we can define and control the ‘rightness’, ‘information’ and the boundary between the internal and external world. Perhaps the key issues that this approach has highlighted for me are i) people often adopt simplifying but not necessarily simple ‘rules’ for choice; ii) the nature in which information is received is important but the content (samples) are much more crucial; iii) people generally have good insight and awareness into the information underlying, and the reasons for their decisions.

Q> What do you think are important issues in Judgment and Decision Making (JDM)?

Dr. Newell > I think one of the most important issues for JDM researchers is to apply the research findings from our labs to the challenges facing our society. In my own work I have started to examine how JDM can be applied to the issues of climate change and retirement decision making. Several other groups around the world are involved in similar work and my hope is that these research efforts can bring about change. These issues are fundamentally about human behaviour so we, as psychologists, should have a lot to contribute.

Q> What would be your message to invite the younger minds to decision sciences?

Dr. Newell > The decision sciences are a burgeoning field. The confluence of psychology, economics, marketing and (to some extent) neuroscience presents many exciting opportunities for novel synergistic projects that can advance our understanding of human behaviour, and have significant impacts on society at large. I would encourage any young scientist with an inquisitive mind to get involved.

(As Interviewed by Sumitava Mukherjee in August 2013)