Professor at School of Psychological Sciences, Tel Aviv University
Dr. Nira Liberman earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Tel Aviv University in 1996 and is a Professor at Tel Aviv University. Prof. Liberman studies the interface between motivation and cognition, the effects of psychological distance and processes of mental representation and decision making. She also conducts research on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Q> Please discuss some of the interesting findings from your research
Dr. Liberman > My research and theorizing proposes three major ideas: (1) the notion that psychological distances, which include temporal distance, social distance, spatial distance and probability — are all ways to diverge from me, here and now, the only thing we experience directly. This seemingly abstract idea has many important empirical-practical ramification, suggesting the distances affect each other, and that they add-up in a sub-additive manner. (2) the notion of level of mental construal, which includes the distinctions between abstract and concrete, central and incidental, global versus local, traits versus behaviors, values versus circumstances, what is true ‘in principle” versus what works “in practice”. The notion that these distinctions map on the same underlying construct is a powerful theoretical tool for integrating various fields in social and cognitive psychology as well as in decision making, marketing and consumer behavior. (3) distance promotes the use of higher- level mental construals, such that decisions, evaluations and predictions about more distal objects (e.g., whether or not to take a job a year from now) are based on higher-level aspects of the situation than the same decisions on more proximal objects (whether or not to take the same job tomorrow).
Q> What do you think are important issues in Judgment and decision making?
Dr. Liberman > Much advance has been made, but I would like to see more progress is needed in the following general frontiers:
- Connect with theories in the field of social and cognitive psychology as well as with neuroscience.
- Apply theory to real-life questions and real data, including “big data”.
- Better understand group-based decisions and social influence on decision, including virtual-world influences.
Q> What would be your message to invite the younger minds to decision sciences?
Dr. Liberman > Decision science is exciting because it is about discrete, observable human behavior that is of much importance to everybody: people choose products, political parties and partners. They choose routes (e.g., how to drive to work), strategies (e.g. of negotiation, of sampling information) and goals (e.g., to maintain health; to increase physical health). Decision science is at the intersection of social psychology, personality psychology, economics and motivation science. Any of these disciplines is in a position to generate interesting hypotheses on how people make choices. Most important – there are so many open questions calling for more scientific work!
(As told to Sumitava Mukherjee in April 2014)