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APS Fellows Win Grawemeyer Awards

Two APS Fellows, Albert Bandera and Philip Tetlock, have been awarded 2008 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards. Each year, the Grawemeyer Foundation awards $200,000 each to recipients for works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education, and religion. Bandura received the 2008 psychology award and Tetlock received the 2008 award for ideas improving world order.

A native of Canada, Albert Bandura received his doctoral degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. He began his appointment at Stanford University in 1953, where he remains as the David Starr Jordan professor of social science in psychology. In 2002 Bandura was ranked the 20th Century’s fourth most eminent psychologist in a survey conducted by the Review of General Psychology, coming in behind only B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, and Sigmund Freud.  He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bandura has received APS’s highest honors, the William James Fellow Award and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, in recognition of his lifetime of contributions to both basic and applied psychological science. In addition to the APS  awards, Bandura has received the Gold Medal Award for lifetime contributions from the American Psychological Foundation.

Bandura’s list of distinctions, including the Grawemeyer Award, stems from his ground-breaking research on motivational factors and self-regulatory mechanisms that influence behavior. His famous “Bobo Doll Studies” of the determinants and mechanisms of observational learning led to the development of social learning theory; an approach later termed Social Cognitive Theory. Bandura showed that people’s attitudes, values, and styles of behavior can be shaped through the power of social modeling. the way we learn and act in the future can be shaped simply by watching others and modeling our behavior after them. His early later research focused on the role of self-efficacy in motivation, learning, and action. This emphasis on cognition is what set Bandura apart from other behaviorists at the time, who explained behavior solely in terms of its environmental influence effects.

Philip Tetlock, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, won the Grawemeyer for the ideas presented in his seminal book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Tetlock’s book focused on the fact that political experts — both the talking heads on TV and the knowledgeable scholars quoted in the newspaper — are no better at predicting world political events than are simple extrapolation algororithms or the rest of us. Tetlock told the Observer that he was happy to win “because the award is one of a number of signs that scholars of world politics are taking psychological research on human judgmental biases increasingly seriously.”

Tetlock’s conclusions, drawn from a 20-year study in which 284 experts made over 27,000 predictions about various world events, also show that once proven wrong, experts, like the rest of us, find it very hard to admit. As Tetlock explained, “My…book documents how often really smart political and economic observers make confident but contradictory predictions and how rare it is for these observers to acknowledge error. There are just too many convenient dissonance-reducing strategies available: ‘my predictions were just off on timing,’…‘what I predicted did not happen but it almost did,’ and — of course — the ‘I-made-the-right-mistake’ defense which declares that it is better to have made a type 1 error than a type 2 error” or vice versa.

But, although everyone may have trouble making accurate predications, some people are better than others. Using Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog and fox metaphor, Tetlock divided the experts in his study into two groups: the hedgehogs, who make decisions based on a single expertise or perspective, and the foxes, who use multiple sources and more flexible thinking to come up with a prediction. The foxes in Tetlock’s sample were better predictors, but, as Tetlock said, “The problem is that these ‘on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand’ experts…lose  the battle for political influence to experts who equivocate less — and promise simple and decisive solutions.”

Learn more about the Grawemeyer Awards at http://www.grawemeyer.org.

Observer Vol.21, No.1 January, 2008

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