CEM Seminar - Richard Nisbett

ASU Center for Evolution and Medicine Spring 2016 Seminars—Richard Nisbett, University of Michigan

Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Michigan
Mindware: As useful for scientists as it is for everyone else

Scientists, mathematicians, statisticians, logicians and philosophers have developed scores of concepts that are the driving force behind the scientific revolution. They are as useful to laypeople as to scientists. But neither group makes remotely as much use of them as they could. Partly this is because professors don't consider it part of the job description to show how the concepts they teach could be used by fields adjacent to their own -- let alone how they can be valuable for everyday life. Statistics, behavioral science methodology and microeconomics are normally taught so as to prevent if at all possible their escape from a few narrow domains. Mindware represents an attempt to show how broad and useful, and how readily generalizable, such concepts can be.

Richard Nisbett is the Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, where he is Co-Director of the Culture and Cognition Program. He studies how laypeople reason and make inferences about the world. He has shown both that inferences can be seriously flawed and that they are surprisingly subject to correction by training in probabilistic reasoning, methodological rules, and cost-benefit analysis. Other work compares East Asians with Westerners. He finds that Westerners reason analytically, emphasizing rules and categorization whereas East Asians reason holistically, focusing broadly on context and attending to similarities and relationships. His most recent work is on the nature of intelligence and its modifiability, showing that traditional views of intelligence are far too pessimistic about how much intelligence can be improved. He has also studied the “culture of honor” of the U.S. South which lies behind the greater violence of that region.

He has received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association and the William James Award from the Association for Psychological Science. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Nisbett is the author of  “Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking (2015)”. In “Mindware,” Nisbett offers practical and worthwhile advice through his work in social psychology. He applies theories common in economics and math such as law of large numbers, cost-benefit analysis, and opportunity costs and shows us how to use them effectively in our daily lives. These tools help us to reason and make better decisions putting us on a trajectory to achieve success.

Nisbett’s other influential publications include "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes" (with T. D. Wilson, 1977, Psychological Review, 84, 231–259), one of the most often cited psychology articles published in the seventies, and “Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (2010).”