Here’s a brief overview of four streams of research that I’ve been performing in collaboration with TCNJ students, followed by ways that students can get involved. A complete list of publications is available here.
1. Behavioral Economics
When do we make rational decisions, what factors influence our choices, and what can be done to improve the quality of our judgments and decisions? Behavioral economists have studied the cognitive limitations and biases, as well as social influences, that affect our reasoning. They have also proposed many ways to help. One popular approach, called libertarian paternalism, preserves our freedom of choice while steering us toward better options. I’ve been studying the promise and pitfalls of this co-called “nudging.”
Sample article: Ruscio et al (2015)
2. Taxometric Method
Think about a psychological construct, such as depression. Do individuals differ categorically, meaning that they belong to either a depressed or a non-depressed group? Or do individuals differ dimensionally, meaning that they fall along a continuum of depressive severity? This is an important difference that has consequences for theory, research, and practice. The taxometric method is a way to determine the structure of individual differences empirically, rather than based on intuitive preferences for categories or dimensions. I’ve been studying ways to perform taxometric analyses most effectively.
3. Modern and Robust Statistical Methods
Many of the statistics we use in social and behavioral science were developed long before we had easy access to powerful computers. Because calculation was costly, data analysis relied heavily on simplifying assumptions. These assumptions make statistics easier to calculate and interpret, but they may not be so realistic (e.g., distributions seldom approximate normality very well). How can we take advantage of computing power to relax or remove assumptions and perform more informative analyses? I’ve been studying ways to estimate effect sizes and calculate confidence intervals.
4. Measurement of Scholarly Impact
Making important decisions about tenure, promotion, grants, and other awards requires an assessment of how much impact a someone’s scholarly work has had. Usually, it’s not practical to read and evaluate a person’s work both because that requires technical expertise and because there’s simply too much to read. Often, this means that decision-makes rely on heuristics such as counting the number of publications and judging the quality of the journals they appear in. Better measures of scholarly impact have been developed by using citation counts from electronic databases. I’ve been studying the relative merits and applications of citation-based indices of scholarly impact.
Sample article: Ruscio et al (2012)
For more info on my areas of interest and expertise, check out the lists of publications, work in progress, and presentations on my CV (academic resume).
How Can Students Get Involved?
Most of my research involves working closely with a small number of students, usually 1 to 3 students per project. I am very flexible about the kinds of arrangements that can be made to complete the work, including these possibilities:
Independent research. This is a way to earn academic credits for work on a research project. The amount of credit is variable and can amount to more or less than one course unit. Independent research can be done as a 300-level course (Psy391 or Psy393; the latter counts as a Specialized Course as long as it’s done for at least one course unit) or a 400-level course (which counts as a Senior Experience). ***
Senior honors thesis. If you qualify to work on a senior honors thesis (minimum GPA in psychology of 3.30, minimum grade of B in Psy299, junior standing), you would enroll in two semester-long research courses worth one course unit apiece: Psy396 counts as a Specialized Course, and Psy496 counts as a Senior Experience. ***
Volunteering. Some students prefer to volunteer time to a project to gain knowledge, experience, and research skills. If your schedule is full but you’d like to get involved, or if you’d have to pay extra to earn more credits that you don’t need in order to graduate, this can be a good option.
*** If you have already completed your Specialized Courses and Senior Experience, you would still earn credit toward the graduation requirement (32 course units). Applications for independent research or senior honors theses must be submitted to the Psychology Department’s Independent Study Committee by the end of the semester before the one in which credit will be earned.
If you would like to discuss potential research interests with the possibility of assisting an ongoing project on a volunteer basis, doing an independent study, or working on an honors thesis, please complete the Psychology Department’s common lab application. Make sure that you express an interest in the Quantitative Psychology Lab so that you’ll be directed to the questions I included and that I’ll receive a copy of your responses.