Skip navigation

College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology

Psychology Matters

Major Matters

shBy Peter Sokol-Hessner, PhD
Assistant Professor

 

 



Getting different academic fields to talk to each other is no small thing, let alone appreciate each other for what they can uniquely contribute. I teach an Advanced Seminar (ASEM) called Decision-Making and Neuroeconomics in which students from academic backgrounds as varied as finance, computer science, psychology, hospitality, biology, and philosophy, among others, read upward of 25 peer-reviewed scientific empirical articles about human decision-making during the term. While most students enter the course having read very few, if any, empirical articles in their lives, succeeding in the course is not simply about learning to read primary science, because the course readings are almost equally drawn from three different fields that take different approaches, value different things, and write about their science very differently: psychology, economics, and neuroscience. It's this very diversity of source that I believe makes this ASEM unique in several respects.

First, it puts all students equally on unfamiliar footing (no one has ever begun the course with experience in all three fields), with the consequence that this ASEM is an unusually supportive and discussion-focused class. Second, it teaches students to dissociate meaning from jargon – the easiest way to synthesize information and insights across these fields is often to leave specialized jargon behind, and distill meaning (and understanding) from the articles when students otherwise might not. Third, and perhaps most essentially, taking this fundamentally interdisciplinary perspective makes it self-evident that the broadest and deepest understanding is gained from integrating across disparate perspectives. Psychology is true to life, but often vague & ill-defined. Economics is clear and strong, but often divorced from bodies or feelings. Neuroscience is concrete and mechanistic, but can say little about preferences or thoughts. Valuing each field for what they can tell us about how and why people make decisions, while noting each field's weaknesses, I believe ultimately builds a stronger understanding of and appreciation for all three fields, and of course, our own decision-making.