Watch out collegiettes, our latest campus celeb likes to research why you prefer one pair of Madden Girl boots, while your friend may prefer another brand. He even enjoys examining why you may like the black style, while your friends prefers the brown style…of the same boot!
Meet Dr. Joseph Johnson, a psychology professor at Miami who teaches the department’s statistics and analysis courses, does research on decision-making, and is starting up a student-run psychology journal for undergraduates to publish their research. All this while raising four kids with his wife, and preparing to spend six months in Germany next semester! Check out our interview with Dr. Johnson below to learn more about his research interests, why he’s going to Germany, and what gave him the inspiration to start up a new student organization!
So what is your research about?
My research, which is my other sort of primary and ongoing responsibility is broadly defined as judgment and decision making, and that can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In particular, what I’m especially interested in is looking at situations that we refer to as “preferences” or “preferential choice.” So it’s different from reasoning and problem solving, which falls under the same general umbrella, but the typical example is consumer behavior.
What do you mean by consumer behavior?
So if you’re buying a new phone or a new car, or deciding which school to attend or which job offer to take, or even whom to marry is consumerism. But something there where there isn’t a correct answer but you have to determine the different tradeoffs. You know, one school might be very close to home, which you may think is a good thing or a bad thing, but it isn’t ranked as highly in terms of its program, or it doesn’t have the specific club sport that you played for yours. So, how do you evaluate those tradeoffs, how do you use that information to make a decision.
How is this different from how economists look at consumerism?
More recently, and in psychology in particular focus has shifted in the past 20 or 30 years to look at the underlying processes. So, we have pretty good models that may try to predict what people are choosing, but then the question is, why? So what are these intervening processes, what’s really going through my head, while I’m deliberating, that’s producing the observable choice that we see.
So why are you going to Germany next semester?
It’s a fellowship that I will be on for six months, working with a colleague…where I propose a specific research project to be completed during that time. Some of it is just flushing out some of the details and theoretical models of the types of tasks like eye tracking. Formally, what we are trying to do is use the eye tracking behavior as an input to try and predict how they (people) are going to move a mouse towards different options. We’re also going to be looking at the neural underpinnings of what’s going on. So, correlating the behavior that we’re seeing in our experimental tasks with EEG data…so what’s going on in the mind when people are doing different things?
Dr. Johnson also says his wife and kids will be with him in Germany. Dr. Johnson actually met his wife in Germany, so he is excited his wife can go back and his kids can see that side of their ancestry and roots.
What gave you the idea to start a student journal?
Well, I teach pretty regularly in our design and analysis courses, so I understood not just the challenges in having students develop these concepts, but also then in terms of communicating that information, and so it was something that I saw starting at that level and continuing through our curriculum, especially in capstones and doing independent research where a lot of students are doing a lot of great things…but a lot of it wasn’t ending up published anywhere in its own right. So, I kind of thought it was unfortunate that there was this abundance of great research going on by undergraduates and developed and conducted independently by undergraduates but it wasn’t being recognized.
Dr. Johnson also says the journal will allow the students on the journal’s editorial board to see the “other side of the equation,” getting experience in academic publishing by acting as editors for other students’ research manuscripts.
Phew, Dr. Johnson sure is a busy guy! But thank goodness he is at Miami, passing on his wisdom and intellect to collegietes like us!