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Habilitation, venia docendi, and new group members

Posted on Thursday, May 19 2022

I have recently defended my habilitation (i.e., the highest degree one can typically obtain from European universities) with a presentation on "Big Data in psychological research: Benefits and limitations", and consequently I have just received the venia docendi for psychology from my alma mater. Together with a higher education teaching certificate that I also completed earlier this year I now definitely feel well prepared for teaching at the UZH in the fall semester!

There are also some good news concerning our group: Frederic Gnielka joined us from the Humboldt University Berlin to pursue a PhD with CBDR. He has a background in methods and is interested in modeling psychological processes involved in decision making under risk and uncertainty. Moreover, Linus Signer has started as a student research assistant in our group. Welcome to both of you!

New position, new group, new team member!

Posted on Monday, Feb 28 2022

Time flies... it has been almost two months since I have begun my new position as an SNSF Eccellenza professor and started my own group, the Cognitive and Behavioral Decision Research (CBDR) lab, at the Department of Psychology of the University of Zurich. Our mission at CBDR consists of contributing to a better understanding of how people make decisions in the complex modern world full of risk and uncertainty. In doing so we focus on the cognitive processes involved in inter- and intraindividual differences in people's risk perceptions and various risk-taking behaviors, and we are also interested in behavioral interventions and risk communication.

And there are more good news to come: In February Olivia Fischer officially started her PhD at CBDR. Olivia is enthusiastic about modeling polarization processes in people's risk perceptions (her first PhD project), real-life risk taking, and risk communication more generally. Welcome, Olivia!

New paper in Psychological Science: What drives individual differences in people's risk perceptions of 5G?

Posted on Wednesday, Oct 06 2021

What drives people’s perceptions of novel risks, and how malleable are such risk perceptions? A better understanding of these questions is important as a strong polarization of people's risk perceptions may have far-reaching consequences, such as preventing informed debates about the advantages and disadvantages of novel technologies. This is particularly the case in the increasingly connected world, where extreme views are quickly disseminated and contribute to triggering filter bubbles (e.g., through social media). In this paper I provide an analytic framework that integrates multiple potential drivers of risk perception (as identified by previous psychological research), to thus gauge their relative influence in shaping inter- as well as intraindividual differences. In doing so I focused on the latest generation of mobile communications technology – 5G.

Specifically, a multiverse analysis of a representative population sample in Switzerland (Study 1; N = 2,919) suggested that interindividual differences in risk perceptions are strongly associated with hazard-related drivers (e.g., trust in the institutions regulating 5G, dread of 5G) as well as person-specific drivers (e.g., electromagnetic hypersensitivity). Crucially, interindividual differences in risk perceptions of 5G were strongly predictive of people’s policy-related attitudes (e.g., voting intentions, need for more regulation). Moreover a field experiment based on a national expert report on 5G (Study 2; N = 839 in a longitudinal sample) indicated that population-level effects are not readily triggered, yet identified links between intraindividual changes in psychological drivers and perceived risk. As such, these results highlight potential targets for future policy interventions, aimed at reconciling lay people’s conflicting risk perceptions and facilitating (more) informed debates on the advantages and disadvantages of novel technologies in the future.

Frey, R. (2021). Psychological drivers of individual differences in risk perception: A systematic case study focusing on 5G. Psychological Science, 32, 1592-1604. doi:10.1177/0956797621998312 | PDF


New paper in Decision: How do people render self-reports of their willingness to take risks?

Posted on Saturday, Jun 05 2021

Markus Steiner, Florian Seitz, and I have a new paper in which we investigate the cognitive processes underlying people's self-reports of their risk preferences. Specifically, we were interested in the information-integration processes that people may rely on during judgment formation, with a particular focus on the type of evidence people may consider when rendering their self-reports. In doing so, we aimed to contribute to a better understanding of why self-reports typically achieve high degrees of convergent validity and test-retest reliability, thus often outperforming their behavioral counterparts (i.e., monetary lotteries and other lab tasks).

To achieve these goals we employed the process-tracing method of aspect listing, to thus gain "a window into people's mind" while they render self-reports. Our cognitive modeling analyses illustrated that people are particularly sensitive to the strength of evidence of the information retrieved from memory during judgment formation. Interestingly, people's self-reported risk preferences and the strength of evidence of the retrieved aspects remained considerable stable in a retest study (i.e., across a one-month interval). Moreover, intraindividual changes in the latter were closely aligned with intraindividual changes in the former – suggesting that a relatively reliable psychological mechanism is at play when people render self-reports.

Beyond our quantitative modeling analyses, the process-tracing method of aspect listing also rendered possible more qualitative insights, such as concerning the sources and contents of the information people retrieved from memory (see the word clouds below). To learn more about all further details on this, please have a look at the paper!

Steiner, M., Seitz, F., & Frey, R. (2021). Through the window of my mind: Mapping information integration and the cognitive representations underlying self-reported risk preference. Decision, 8, 97–122. doi:10.1037/dec0000127 | PDF


New paper in JEP General: Is representative design the key to valid assessments of people's risk preferences?

Posted on Friday, Apr 30 2021

A large body of research has documented the relatively poor psychometric properties of behavioral measures of risk taking, such as low convergent validity and poor test–retest reliability. In this project we examined the extent to which these issues may be related to violations of "representative design" – the idea that experimental stimuli should be sampled or designed such that they represent the environments to which measured constructs are supposed to generalize.

To this end, we focused on one of the most prominent behavioral measures of risk taking, the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Our analyses demonstrate that the typical implementation of the BART violates the principle of representative design, and strongly conflicts with the expectations people might have formed from real balloons. We conducted two extensive empirical studies (N = 772 and N = 632), aimed at testing the effects of improved representative designs. Indeed, participants acquired more accurate beliefs about the optimal behavior in the BART due to these task adaptions. Yet strikingly, these improvements proved to be insufficient to enhance the task's psychometric properties (e.g., convergent validity with other measures of risk preference and related constructs). We conclude that for the development of valid behavioral measurement instruments, our field has to overcome the philosophy of the "repair program" (i.e., fixing existing tasks). Instead, the development of valid task designs may require ecological assessments that identify those real-life behaviors and associated psychological processes that lab tasks are supposed to capture and generalize to.

This is a joint project with my (now former) PhD student Markus Steiner (see picture below), who has successfully defended his thesis last week – congratulations, Dr. Steiner!

Steiner, M., & Frey, R. (2021). Representative design in psychological assessment: A case study using the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150, 2117-2136. doi:10.1037/xge0001036 | PDF


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