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Clarkson University Professor Leads International Workshop on Decision Making in an Uncertain World

Clarkson University Associate Professor of Psychology Andreas Wilke led a one-week workshop this summer in Germany on the evolved foundations of decision making.

Andreas WilkeWilke was one of 17 faculty from around the world to travel to Jena, Germany, in August to teach a workshop at the Ninth Summer School of the International Max Planck Research School on Adapting Behavior in a Fundamentally Uncertain World (IMPRS Uncertainty).

The program combined approaches from economics, law and psychology to explain human decision making under risk and uncertainty more effectively and to better design institutional responses.

Wilke, whose expertise is in judgement and decision making, said different disciplines use different approaches to study decision making. For example, economists study rational choice models, expected utilities or mathematical axioms in idealized choice settings, while psychologists study the cognitive mechanisms people utilize to make such decisions in specific real world environments.

Psychologists are particularly interested in the many decisions people face in which they may not have all the available information or they lack time and cognitive resources to make an ideal decision.

"Economists typically focus on the normative question of how decision makers should choose, and psychologists focus on the descriptive question of how decisions are actually made by individuals, groups or institutions," Wilke said. "Having multiple theoretical approaches to work with is important, but we need to make sure that we also train people to make decisions with the kind of information that is available to them, which may be contradicting, limited or even absent."

Wilke said people are generally quite good in dealing with the risks inherent in everyday life and how it affects their decision making process. Uncertainty, however, is difficult for people to grasp -- it worries and bothers them -- because they don't know how to reduce it or what could happen next.

By bringing pre- and post-doctoral students and faculty together from different backgrounds, researchers can better understand the human capacity for making good decisions and sound judgments. Wilke said the interdisciplinary emphasis of the workshop was particularly important for students to appreciate how different disciplines approach these topics.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

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