In the Decision Making Lab, I usually supervise the work of 1 or 2 students per project so that we can collaborate closely at all stages. Please review the information below and reach out if you have any questions or want to discuss possibilities for getting involved.
Independent Study Courses
Rather than registering for a lab course (PSY390 or PSY492), students working with me enroll in a one-semester independent study course (PSY393 or PSY493) or a two-course thesis (PSY394 one semester, PSY494 the following semester). Each of these courses counts as 1 course unit toward the graduation requirement of 32 course units. If you are completing the psychology major, you can also count PSY393 or PSY394 as Specialized Courses and PSY493 or PSY494 as the Senior Experience. (For more information about how independent study courses work within the psychology major, see the Undergraduate Bulletin – Psychology.)
Types of Independent Study
An independent study project can take the form of a literature review (i.e., reading and synthesizing scholarly sources) or an empirical project (i.e., data collection and analysis). I’m happy to consider either type of collaboration. Between the TCNJ library and online resources, we have plenty of sources available to perform literature reviews. To consider doing an empirical project, on the other hand, we’d have to think carefully about the feasibility of accessing appropriate data to perform informative analyses.
Topics for Independent Study
Here’s a brief overview of some topics that we could explore together. Each is described broadly and can be tailored to individual preferences. Additional research interests can be found on my CV or my complete list of publications, and I’d be eager to learn what interests you to search for common ground.
- Decision Hygiene. When we make judgments or decisions, sources of error include systematic bias plus random noise. Psychologists have studied the cognitive limitations (e.g., attention, memory, effort), mental shortcuts (e.g., availability, representativeness, and anchoring heuristics), and social influences (e.g., groupthink, conformity) that can affect our reasoning. They have also proposed many types of decision hygiene, or strategies that can reduce the extent of bias or noise (e.g., reframing, wisdom of crowds, consider the opposite, mechanical decision aids). We could review a wide range of pitfalls in making accurate judgments or sound decisions and the forms of decision hygiene designed to deal with them, and then apply all of this in a particular decision-making domain that interests you (e.g., professional psychology, law, environmental issues).
- Sports Analytics. With increasing numbers of people taking an interest in collegiate and professional sports as players, coaches, media, or fans, the stakes have never been higher. The larger rewards available have prompted greater efforts to make smarter choices, and one way to do this is to gather and examine relevant data. Sports analytics can be used to examine theoretical questions (e.g., Is sports momentum real or is it a cognitive illusion? What factors are most—and least—responsible for home field advantage?), inform practical decisions (e.g., should an NFL coach “go for it” on 4th down, rather than kicking? What’s the most cost-effective way to build a roster in a sport with a salary cap?), or help us better understand sports (e.g., win-probability models can reveal how impactful certain choices or outcomes can be, in real time, as a game unfolds). We could review the relevant types of information available for a particular sport and, through literature review or an empirical project, test theoretical questions or compare alternative decision-making strategies.
- Collective Decision Making. Sometimes, whole groups or societies want to make a choice or resolve a particular issue (e.g., crafting public policies, making laws, allocating resources, establishing social norms). Collective decisions can have far-reaching consequences and often involve balancing diverse perspectives, interests, and values. Public choice theory sheds light on the complexities and intricacies of how societies make these choices, including the trade-offs, motivations, and power dynamics involved in decision-making processes. Because all stakeholders (e.g., voters, elected representatives, bureaucrats, lobbyists) are assumed to make rational decisions based on their preferences and available information, the end results may not be fair or efficient. We could explore the many common pitfalls of collective decision making (e.g., rationally ignorant voters, short-sighted policies that favor concentrated interests over the broader public good) and the relative pros and cons of decisions made via governments vs. markets, and then apply this to a domain of particular interest to you (e.g., education, criminal justice, environmental issues).
- Research Methods. When we plan studies, collect and analyze data, and draw conclusions, we’re making a lot of decisions. Because we’re not very good intuitive statisticians, there are tools available to help make better choices. How much data will I need to get informative results? (Estimate statistical power.) Can my findings be explained by chance? (Calculate a p value.) Are my findings trivial or important? (Calculate effect size.) How precisely have I estimated something? (Construct a confidence interval.) Have the results of a replication study corroborated or refuted the original findings? (Perform a small telescopes analysis.) For each of these applications of statistical analysis, alternative techniques exist and some work better than others. We could review the challenges posed at one or more stages of the research process along with the pros and cons of the available tools, and then evaluate best practices in a particular type of situation through a literature review or an empirical project.
You cannot register for an independent study course through PAWS. Instead, you’d complete an application and submit it for review by the Psychology Department’s Independent Study Committee. The deadline is the final day of classes in the semester before the independent study would begin (e.g., the end of the fall semester for a spring semester independent study). If you and I find a shared interest that we’d like to pursue together, I can help draft the application and (almost) guarantee it will be approved.
If you’d like to discuss potential project ideas that we might pursue, either reach out to me directly (email any time or stop by during my office hours, which are updated here each semester) or complete the Psychology Department’s common lab application (make sure that you express an interest in the Decision Making Lab so that you’ll be directed to the questions I included and that I’ll receive a copy of your responses).