People are often called upon to make important decisions involving uncertainty in domains in which they are not experts, such as medical treatment, financial planning and precautions for severe weather. The mission of the DMU lab is to uncover the psychological factors that impact such decisions in order to determine how best to support them. We are particularly interested in discovering methods for presenting relevant uncertainty information to decision-makers to improve decision quality.
Most of our work to date has been in the domain of weather, which provides an excellent model for decision-making under uncertainty because high-quality uncertainty estimates are available from numerical models. Our research suggests that everyday users make better decisions when they have the relevant information. They understand and benefit from fairly complex data, such as explicit numeric uncertainty estimates, if it is carefully expressed. Moreover, people intuitively understand that forecasts involve uncertainty and have greater trust in forecasts that include explicit numeric uncertainty estimates than when this information is omitted. This research has implications for decisions in many other domains.
We use several methodological approaches in our research. Cognitive-ethnographic work based on observations and surveys helps us to gain an understanding of the context, background knowledge and goals with which people approach critical decisions. In addition, we use experimental methods, incorporating realistic decisions often with actual monetary rewards to test specific questions. Our research is interdisciplinary: We work closely with domain experts, such as atmospheric scientists, to sharpen the questions we ask and ensure the ecological validity of the stimuli we test.
Students joining the lab will learn about the intersection of traditional decision theory and applied questions. They will help to pursue research designed to bridge the gaps between these two approaches and impact real-world situations. They will have the opportunity to work on interdisciplinary teams and present their research in a number of interdisciplinary settings.