Reflections from a Judgment
and Decision Making Perspective
Among the more irreverent Northwestern graduate students of my day there was active debate as to whether Egon Brunswik's reputation as a deep thinker had been achieved in spite of or because of the opacity of his prose. It was only the firm hand of Donald T. Campbell (once, I believe, Brunswik's teaching assistant at Berkeley, but at that time the guru of the Northwestern psychology department) that drove us through the thickets of dense German and imperfect translation. A first reaction to the present volume is to conclude that Brunswik's reputation is secure. Here is a body of first-class work inspired by, informed by, or otherwise tied to central Brunswikian ideas of half a century or more ago. The prose, it turns out, was worth the struggle. If only we had had Goldstein's lucid introductory essay (chapter 2) to guide our earlier studies!
The second reaction, at least to this judgment and decision making (JDM) researcher, is a certain envy. Most of our studies, defying Brunswikian rules, rely on super-simple, artificial tasks—onesentence scenarios, transparent gambling games, unfamiliar hypotheticals. Not uncommonly our data matrix is N × 1, a single response from N different subjects. If nothing else, such data leave a considerable burden on the investigator to explain just why anyone should care what these subjects did in this task. It is not an impossible task to explain that this is, we think, the way (a way?) to theory, but it is a burden nonetheless. One assumes that the authors of the chapters collected in this volume rarely face such a demand for explanation. When one addresses tasks such as aircraft collision avoidance, battlefield threat assessment, chemical plant fault diagnosis, or identification of radar images as friendly or hostile aircraft, it seems self-evident that understanding and improving the judgment and decision processes involved will be matters that the relevant practitioners care about.
It is self-evident that JDM researchers would also like to have something useful to say in the world of significant decisions—to medical doctors forming diagnoses, to investors planning a retirement strategy, to faculty selecting graduate students. Here, I think, JDM researchers have set themselves a more difficult task than have the human–technology interaction (HTI) researchers represented in this volume. At least the latter start with one domain of application, the one in which the original research was conducted. The JDM researcher, in contrast, having started with a highly simplified, thin task must undertake a tricky extrapolation before reaching even the first domain of potentially useful application.