Dr. Paul Slovic has recently joined Marie Curie, Orville Wright, Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein as a Franklin Institute Award laureate. The Franklin Institute Awards Program, dating back to 1824, is the oldest one in the United States. Each year a committee chooses a different field for the Bower Award, which is the only Franklin Institute award with a monetary prize as well as a gold medal. Given the field chosen for 2022 – decision making, it comes as no surprise to most of us that Dr. Slovic, a leading researcher in the field, professor in our department, and president of the Decision Research Institute, was chosen as the recipient of this award. On their page, the Franklin Institute posted a short video and article highlighting Dr. Slovic's incredible work. You can also watch the full livestream of the award ceremony, introducing the full 2022 class of Franklin Institute Awards Laureates.
Dr. Clyde Coombs, Dr. Slovic’s mentor in Michigan, first introduced him to decision making research. During his time there, he used gambling experiments to evaluate economists’ theories. At the time, economists believed that people make decisions completely rationally and therefore psychology is not important for evaluating risky decision making. Using the gambles to precisely manipulate how risk is presented to participants, Dr. Slovic was able to show that humans often make decisions irrationally, due to cognitive limitations and deceptive emotional reactions. Many economists disagreed and resisted integrating this evidence into their theories of decision making but the new field of behavioral economics now recognizes and applies these ideas.
Dr. Slovic went on to apply the insights gained from these lab studies to the gambles that society makes. Much of his recent work focuses on what impacts the decisions we make in the face of humanitarian crises, warfare, or climate change. The psychological obstacles that often block us from acting rationally in these crises include psychic numbing – an indifference to the suffering of large groups of people, pseudoinefficacy – the false feeling of inefficacy when faced with the broad scope of need that prevents small effective action, and the prominence effect – making a choice based on what’s important in the moment rather than weighing the actual trade-offs. If implemented, the research on these obstacles could help governments make better decisions about intervening in cases of genocide or combating climate change. Dr. Slovic and his colleagues have created a website called The Arithmetic of Compassion that describes these psychological challenges to rationality and applies them to recent events and policies with suggestions on how to take effective action.