Labs and Centers
Over the past 20 years, I have created three centers and labs that investigate human decision making in its complexity, combining theory and tools from cognitive psychology, behavioral economics, and the neurosciences. Two of those continue to exist at Columbia University and the third and most recent one is at Princeton University.
Behavioral Science for Policy Lab (BSPL)
The Behavioral Science for Policy Lab cuts across three academic units at Princeton University: (a.) the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment within the School of Engineering, (b.) the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Center within the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and (c.) the Department of Psychology. PhD students, postdocs, and undergraduate researchers come from all three groups and also include international visitors. The physical location of the BSPL is in the Andlinger Center.
The BSPL mission is to put Weber’s previous research insights about the full range of human motivation and human decisions processes into a broader context, looking at decision makers who are imbedded in social networks and their physical and social environment, who receive information and cues from those sources as well as feedback from the effect their decisions have on their environment.
Interconnection and cross-talk and fertilization between models of human decision making and social network models and complex adaptive systems modeling.
The photos below show the permanent BSPL members. To find out more about them, you can click on their photo.
Johanna is the Lab Manger of the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018, with a degree in Economics and minors in Environmental Studies and Fine Arts. Previously, she was a Research Assistant at the Schweitzer Lab at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she worked on a range of topics relating to emotions and decision-making.
Johanna is interested in pursuing a PhD in a behavioral field and is particularly interested in behavioral research in applied contexts. Specifically, her research interests include decision making under uncertainty, intertemporal choice, group behavior, social norms, prejudice, gender, and the environment. Through her work at BSPL, she is interested in exploring how behavioral research can generate effective and meaningful approaches for real world policy solutions.
Sara’s current research focuses on understanding how social norms affect individual and collective behaviors (especially in environmental contexts) and how this influence might vary depending on several factors, such as the source of norm information or the agency of the individual in determining her institutional context.
A second line of research is aimed at developing a comprehensive decision making framework, which extends beyond rational choice and brings together theories from various disciplines and levels of detail, in order to better characterize decisions in complex ecological contexts.
Previously, she completed a Ph.D. at New York University, where she developed computational models to capture learning and decisions in foraging contexts, characterized by inter temporal tradeoffs and opportunity costs.
Gregg Sparkman is a postdoctoral research associate in the Andlinger Center at Princeton University. His research is focused on understanding social change, including the causes and consequences of norms shifting over time. He completed his PhD at Stanford University in social psychology, where he investigated how people are influenced by witnessing social change and how this can be incorporated into interventions in social, environmental, and political domains. Collaborating with non-profit, public, and private organizations, he uses national surveys and field studies to develop and assess social psychological interventions to meet social and environmental goals.
Alicia studies politics at the intersection of development and the environment, and she focuses on the way that collective action interacts with local politics to influence sustainable development. By combining a deep understanding of the social and political realities of local contexts with cutting-edge climate data, her research illuminates the relationship between human and natural systems.
Alicia’s research interests include the political economy of development, environmental politics and policymaking, distributive politics, and statistical methods. Her broader research agenda studies the politics of natural disasters, natural resource management, and climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.
Alicia received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University in 2019, a Master of International Affairs (M.I.A.) from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy in 2013, and a B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University in 2008.
Mackenzie Barry is a Laboratory Coordinator/Research Assistant in the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab (BSPL) at Princeton University. She recently received her BA in Psychology and Business Studies while on a full athletic scholarship at Providence College in Rhode Island.
She has conducted research previously in the fields of interpersonal relationships in athletics, industrial organization, and social media. The latter two are currently in the process of being published to their respective journals.
At BSPL she hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the motivations behind making decisions in the real world. She is interested in pursuing a PhD in Sports Psychology concentrating on the interpersonal relationships between coaches and athletes as well as motivations of athletes that allow them to pursue their respective sport. As part of the BSPL team she hopes to gain more experience in research by exploring a different field as well as learn more about the issues facing the environment and how humanity’s relationship can help reduce the effects we are currently experiencing.
Hale Forster is a Ph.D. student in the Psychology department at Columbia University, where she also conducts research in the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and the Center for Decision Sciences. Her research focuses on behavior change and decision making, with an emphasis on understanding and encouraging sustainable energy use behaviors using a combination of lab and field research.
She is currently researching the effect of messages that activate environmental motivations on energy saving choices. This research examines the mechanisms through which environmental messages can lead to behavior change, including influencing how people make decisions (via activating different decision modes) and understanding how these messages activate a range of environmental identities.
She also studies how social environments can foster behavior change. Prior to joining Columbia, Hale was a Senior Consultant at an energy market research firm. She has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Oregon.
Matthew R. Sisco
Matthew Sisco is a doctoral student in the psychology department at Columbia University and is an IGERT Data to Solutions fellow with the computer science department. Matthew was previously the Program Coordinator at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia. He is a collaborator and affiliate of the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab at Princeton University. His interests are at the intersection of behavioral science, computer science, and environmental problems.
Matthew works on developing computational methods for use in behavioral science, and applies these methods to studying behavioral aspects of environmental issues. His research looks at drivers of pro-environmental behavior and attention to climate change.
He is an expert in implementing machine learning and natural language processing methods for measuring psychological variables, such as attention to climate change, using big data (e.g. social media data, digital news data, etc.).
Matthew also is a competent web developer with substantial experience developing web applications for scientific data collection and data visualization.
Pooja Vijay Ramamurthi is a PhD student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her research is within the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy program.
She is interested in understanding individual and community decision-making processes focused on the energy and environment. Through her work, she plans to use behavioral science to formulate policies to hasten the creation of sustainable, affordable and reliable energy pathways in developing countries.
Prior to coming to Princeton, she worked at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) in India. She holds a double Masters degree in Sustainable Energy from the Royal institute of Technology, Sweden and Instituto Superior Tecnico, Portugal on a European Commission scholarship.
The photos below show the current and past visitors and affiliates. To find out more about them, you can click on their photo.
Adrian L. Rinscheid
Trained in Political Science (University Konstanz/Germany, University St.Gallen/Switzerland), Adrian focuses in his research on business’s and citizens’ roles in energy and climate politics. Specifically, his work investigates how firms and business associations shape citizens’ views on energy and the climate, and how they influence the outcomes of policy processes.
Adrian’s prior research has capitalized on direct democratic votes to study the complexity of preference construction in a real world setting. At BSPL, he applies experimental methods to gain a deeper understanding of the psychological underpinnings of social norm perceptions.
Visiting Student Research Collaborator
Saara Ehlert is a Visiting Student Research Collaborator from the Radboud University in the Netherlands. Back home, she in the process of finishing her Research Master’s degree in Behavioral Science. Before this, Saara has obtained a bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Social and Political Science at the University of Helsinki, with a specialization in Social and Cultural Anthropology.
In her research Saara focuses on social norms and social identity, and the possibility of leveraging these to further pro-environmental decision-making. She is particularly interested in research that can be used to inform policy decisions, and that reaches beyond the borders of WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) countries. As part of the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab, Saara will participate in the planning of a cross-cultural panel study regarding social norms and pro-environmental behavior and investigate the relationship between pro-environmental decision-making and personal moral dimensions.
Silvia is a PhD student in Public Policy and Administration at Bocconi University and Junior Research Fellow at the IEFE Centre for Research on Energy and Environmental Economics and Policy of Bocconi University.
She investigates individual perception and decision-making in the context of climate change and environmental issues, applying both quantitative and qualitative methods.
In 2018 she is visiting Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. At BSPL she intends to apply behavioural perspectives to understand how social norms shape environmental decisions and behaviour.
Professor at Bocconi University
Valentina Bosetti is a professor at Bocconi University teaching environmental and climate change economics. She is a research fellow at the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change.
Valentina has also been collaborating for Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei from 2003 to 2018. She has been a visiting fellow at the Princeton Environmental Institute in 2009/2010 and she was a Fellow at CASBS at Stanford in 2014/2015.
Valentina was one of the lead authors of the 5th AR IPCC (2014) and she will serve again for the 6th AR. Valentina was president of the Italian Association of Environmental and Resource Economics (IAERE) and council member of the European one (EAERE). She was the PI of a ERC Starting Grant on Innovation and clean technologies (ICARUS) and she currently is PI ERC Starting Grant on Uncertainty and Climate Change (RISICO).
Renato Frey is a cognitive psychologist studying how people make decisions under risk and uncertainty. In his research, he is particularly interested in the construct of risk preference: How stable is a person’s risk preference across different situations and time? How can we best measure the cognitive processes underlying risk preference and interindividual differences therein? And to what extent is risk preference predictive for how people deal with the daily risks of our modern world?
To answer these questions, Renato uses quantitative methods (psychometric, cognitive, and predictive modeling) and implements both lab experiments and ecological assessments. Renato received his PhD from the University of Basel (Switzerland), spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and now is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Cognitive and Decision Sciences (University of Basel) and a Swiss National Science Foundation Ambizione fellow. He is currently spending six months as a visiting scholar at Princeton University.
Stephanie Mertens is a doctoral student in the Consumer Decision and Sustainable Behavior Lab at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Her research focuses on the behavioral aspects of sustainability and investigates the psychological determinants of purchasing decisions in the energy domain. Specifically, her work examines how varying expressions or translations of energy consumption can enhance decision making on a cognitive and behavioral level.
At BSPL, Stephanie investigates the effects of attribute translations and other choice architectural interventions on decision making across different consumer groups and population segments. This comparative research aims to identify individual differences in responsiveness to interventions and to provide clear recommendations for the development and implementation of energy policies.
Prior to her doctoral studies at the University of Geneva, Stephanie received a B.Sc. in psychology from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and a M.Sc. in social and cognitive psychology from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Professor at Stockholm University
Maja Schlüter is an associated professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden, where she leads the SES-LINK group that is based on the ERC starting grant SESLINK and the ERC consolidator grant MuSES. Maja’s research focuses on the dynamics of social-ecological systems, particularly how feedbacks between human action and ecological consequences can lead to (un)sustainable social and ecological outcomes. Maja is particularly interested in how the diversity of human motivations and behavior, e.g. of resource users or political actors, impacts sustainability and resilience of human-environment systems. She combines agent-based modeling with empirical and experimental research to identify social-ecological mechanisms that may explain phenomena such as fishery collapse, poverty traps or policy adaptation to environmental change.
Prior to her position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Maja has worked at the UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig/Halle, in the lab of Simon Levin at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University and the Leibniz Centre for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin.
Nanda’s research focuses on understanding and formalizing of human group behavior in and on social-ecological systems. She uses agent-based modelling (computational simulations) to integrate and formalize case or expert knowledge, social theory and connecting to other methods to contribute to a deeper understanding.
She works as a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC). Currently she works on synthesizing knowledge using agent-based modelling, i.e. comparing and exploring fishery case studies and interventions. Previously, Nanda worked in the SES-LINK project focusing on the role of human behavior in diverse natural resource management projects.
Maria is a Summer Intern in the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab (BSPL) for the summer of 2019. She is an incoming second-year undergraduate student at Princeton University pursuing a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a possible certificate in Visual Arts.
Although this is her first experience with academic research she has long had a passion for all-things environment. As part of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, she recently helped pass a referendum asking the University for clearer standing on climate action.
During her eight weeks at BSPL Maria hopes to learn more about the decision-making process and how social norms play a role in pro-environmental changes. She hopes to gain experience in research and is very excited to explore the intersection of technology, psychology and policy.
Oleg is an incoming sophomore at Princeton University studying Operations Research and Financial Engineering. With some background in psychological research, Oleg considers this summer internship a natural continuation of his interest in behavioral economics and social influence.
During the internship, Oleg hopes to explore the nuances in environmental policy implementation and the research involved in framing desired outcomes. Likewise, he hopes to use this opportunity to learn and explore applications for machine learning and other quantitative tools in the field.
In the future, Oleg aims to grasp a more extensive array of algorithms and a better theoretical foundation, which all play a significant role in individual and group decision-making models in the form of data mining and applied statistics.
Deniz is a senior Engineering major and Economics minor at Smith College. She is interested in Behavioral Economics and Operations Research. Behavioral Science for Policy Lab’s (BSPL) interdisciplinary approach made her want to join the lab.
At BSPL, she hopes to use the skills she gained through her engineering education on the climate change front and get a better understanding of behavioral research. She also hopes her experience at BSPL will help her efforts in Engineers Without Borders. She aims to focus on urban development, mobility, and climate change mitigation strategies in the future.
Centers at Columbia University
CRED is an interdisciplinary social science research center that studies individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and decision making in the face of environmental risk. CRED’s objectives address the human responses to climate change and climate variability as well as improved communication and increased use of scientific information on climate variability and change. In addition to advancing fundamental theory in psychology, behavioral economics, and other social science disciplines, CRED researchers work on integrated field projects around the world, where decision science is brought to bear on sustainable development challenges in such settings as agricultural decisions and water management.
Located at Columbia University, CRED is affiliated with The Earth Institute and partners with various departments and centers across campus. CRED was established in 2004 as one of four centers under the National Science Foundation Program Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) with major NSF funding under two cooperative agreements. The initial CRED proposal emphasized the importance of group decisions, as well as individual actions in a group context, for climate-related and other environmental decisions. David Krantz, Elke Weber, Roberta Balstad, and Kenneth Broad were the initial co-directors of CRED, and the wider team has included many senior scientists from a variety of disciplines.
CRED’s mission is to comprehend and confront the gap between society’s recognition of environmental problems such as natural hazards and unsustainable consumption and society’s frequent failure to act on the scientific insights, economic analyses, and technological solutions that address these problems. CRED focuses on recent insights in the decision sciences that help explain this gap: the finite nature of human attention, the complex interactions of cognition and emotion in shaping human action, the challenges which uncertainty places on human perception and action, and the profoundly social character of human action. CRED seeks to remedy this gap through two major streams of activity. It conducts research in settings such as laboratories and field sites in the US and around the globe, and it carries out a number of forms of outreach, including education, communication guides, advising to local, national and international organizations, and the development of decision support tools which facilitate use of scientific information about the environment and which promote better group decisions. The flow between the research and the outreach goes in both directions: the research informs the outreach and the outreach provides research opportunities to test hypotheses. Taken together, these two streams of activity advance science and advance society’s capacity to address major environmental challenges.
For more details, see www.cred.columbia.edu
Our mission: The Center for the Decision Sciences (CDS) serves as a resource to encourage dialogue and collaboration among researchers in multiple divisions and disciplines at Columbia Business School and to facilitate dialogue with and research transfer to industry experts and public policy makers. Our goal is to generate and facilitate interdisciplinary basic research that is relevant to the needs of real world decision makers.
Our history: Decision science lies at the intersection of several social and behavioral science disciplines, drawing on theory and methods from economics, psychology, political science and management, among other fields. Theory and research in the decision sciences has followed two paths: The first is normative or prescriptive, focused on specifying criteria for evaluating decisions and providing algorithms for achieving optimal outcomes; the second is descriptive, focusing on how people actually make decisions.
The Center for Decision Sciences (CDS) at Columbia Business School has dual educational and research purposes: to provide cross-training to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in aspects of decision sciences that they are not exposed to in their home disciplines; and to bring together researchers from different departments and schools to work on research issues that require cross-disciplinary expertise.
Foci extend well beyond the interests of the core organizers, including but not limited to statistical decision theory, the micro-foundations of comparative justice systems, rational expectations in economics and political science, technological change and the restructuring of decision processes, and the impact of probabilistic forecasts (for example, climate variability) on decision algorithms. The Center provides assistance of various sorts to researchers, including advice on research design, data acquisition, and data analysis.
The Center, formerly part of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), is a partner of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED).
CDS has three founding directors: Eric Johnson, David Krantz and Elke Weber.
For more details, see Center for Decision Sciences.