Award-winning psychological research, led by Professor Nick Chater of the People at the Centre of Communication and Information Technologies Programme, has underpinned the development of Electronic Financial Advice (e-advice) software, which delivers computer-based feedback on financial decisions. A new cognitive model of decision-making under risk was developed alongside a prototype online financial system based on user behaviour and e-advice support. The commercial spinout company Decision Technology provides a range of research for the private sector, particularly the financial and retail sector.
Surgeons' operating skills are honed using research by Dr Nick Sevdalis at the Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution. He has developed methods to assess decision-making skills by surgeons in a simulated operating theatre using high fidelity surgical mannequins and full operating theatre teams. This work is leading to the development of reliable assessment tools and training interventions for surgeons' decision-making and communications skills. Sevdalis has also been modelling surgical risk estimation and choice of surgical procedure by expert and novice surgeons. A method to provide individualised feedback on decision-making has been exploited successfully by the Royal College of Surgeons.
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People vary in how they behave and make decisions and we need to integrate the insights and methods from contemporary biology and medical sciences with those of social scientists in seeking to understand individual behaviour.
Social science enables a focus on understanding those decisions by individuals in the context of family, neighbourhood and social relations more generally.
For example, we need to know how individuals perceive risks to their health.Take screening; although reventative screening can bring benefits, it can embed a false sense of security in some people, leading others to be fatalistic: both responses can lead to increased risk to health.To plan preventative healthcare we need to know how and why individuals behave differently in response to such information.
Research is starting to bring better knowledge of some behaviours. However, links between social, biological and environmental factors and individual behaviours, choices and outcomes are still far from clear.We need to understand how diverse factors fluctuate and compound over people's lives and how they can be predicted, managed or influenced. Specific challenges include:
Breakthroughs are likely to come as much from combining techniques as combining knowledge. As well as ensuring the sustained prosperity of individual disciplines, further investment in relevant interdisciplinary training, especially at post doctoral level, will be essential.
The ESRC will work closely with other Research Councils in deepening our understanding of behavioural choice, for example with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) on environmental behaviours, the MRC on health inequalities, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council on biological influences on behaviour, and with the TSB and the EPSRC on future skills and creativity.
These biological and multi-level social influences are the subject of sustained attention in our other challenges. Global Economic Performance, Policy and Management fundamentally involves understanding the decisions made by individuals around the world. Within Environment, Energy and Resilience, there is a need to address perceptions about the value of environmental goods and services and people's usage of these.Whether insights into behaviour really enable reductions in health inequalities has crucial implications for the Health and Wellbeing challenge. How people learn is central to the New Technology, Innovation and Skills challenge of increasing creativity and breadth of skill.
By 2014 the ESRC will have: