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Research Projects on Adaptive Nature of Human Judgment

Phil Dunwoody
Athens, GA

My research during the past year has been heavily influenced by the social and cognitive psychology literature. The unifying theme I have chosen is the adaptive nature of human judgment.

I am currently working on a paper with Leonard Martin that examines the tacit paradigm of modern cognitive and social psychology within an attribution framework. More specifically, we argue that researchers are usually involved in attribution tasks (i.e., researchers make causal attributions about participant behavior). While experiments are often designed to induce specific behavioral effects, the power of the experimental context is often under appreciated, resulting in an attribution bias toward the participant. This work utilizes the findings on attribution and a systems orientation to explain-and hopefully reduce-researcher bias by attempting to make some of our implicit assumptions about human nature and research explicit.

Another project of mine is a review paper examining how introspection and judgment interact in the world. Nisbett and Wilson (1977) made the claim that we do not have access to higher order processes, but only to the output of such processes. More recent work by Wilson and colleagues (Hodges & Wilson, 1993; Wilson & Kraft, 1989; Wilson & LaFleur, 1995; Wilson & Schooler, 1991), has emphasized that judgment satisfaction decreases after introspective analysis. A review of the literature shows that this decrease in judgment satisfaction is contingent upon the type of judgment task used and that the effect can be reversed given the appropriate task. I suggest rather than the statement "we do not have access to our higher order processes," it would be more appropriate to state that our language module only has direct access to some types of information. If one views these findings from a modular mind perspective, one would not expect the language module to have universal access to all other modules. This view is consistent with current work in cognitive neuroscience (Gazzaniga, 1992, 1995) and provides a framework from which research involving verbalization may be understood (i.e., the nature of insight problems, the effects of talk aloud procedures).

The review paper on how judgment and introspection interact also draws on Cognitive Continuum Theory (CCT). Indeed, the early work with CCT related different cognitive modes of processing with brain structure. Both Hammond's CCT and Gazzaniga's work with split-brain subjects have reached similar conclusions. The hemispheres have different processing styles. The left hemisphere is more analytic and serial while the right is more intuitive and holistic. I hope to follow up this parallel when the facility for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) that is being built here at UGA is finished.

On a related note, my colleagues and I have recently completed a test of CCT within a simulated environment (Dunwoody, Haarbauer, Mahan, Marino, & Tang, in press). The results are promising and support many of the CCT derived hypotheses. We found that processing style (analytic to intuitive) did indeed fluctuate with task parameters. However, the fluctuation was not always in the direction predicted, and we stressed the need to consider subjective task characteristics more explicitly. This work is currently in press at the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making and should be out shortly.

Finally, I have one more research project under way. Adam Goodie and I are examining base-rate neglect in a single cue probability-learning task. We have some preliminary data that shows participants weight consistent information (either the base-rate or the cue) more heavily than inconsistent information even though, in the long run, there is no adaptive benefit (their utilities are equal). We are extending this to examine how consistency affects base-rate usage when the utilities, or ecological validities, are not equal. For example, we have a condition where base-rate neglect, in the normative sense, is functionally adaptive. We are hypothesizing that people will show functional adaptation by using and not using base rates as a function of their utility. The task is a simple dichotomous judgment of whether a person is nice vs. not nice as a function of group membership.

In summary, I have been pursuing a research agenda that draws from diverse bodies of literature in order to gain a more thorough understanding of person-environment interactions on judgment. I plan to follow up on these related lines of research with a post-doc or an appropriate teaching and research position in the near future.

Contact Phil Dunwoody

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