UK Hosts Global Forum on Decision Making

by Erin Holaday Ziegler

From the complexity of Proctor and Gamble's profit-maximizing strategies, to the seeming simplicity of a crepe myrtle's determination of how much root mass to grow, the world makes decisions in a spectacular array of circumstances.

Most academic disciplines at the University of Kentucky address the process of decision making in some way. According to UK biology Professor Philip Crowley, there's a rich mix of similarities and differences in approach among the disciplines that provides great opportunities for cross-fertilization when it comes to studying decision making.

"For example, there are different goals for the decision making process in different fields, such as profit maximization in economics, fitness maximization in biology, perhaps maximizing satisfaction in psychology and learning rates in education," Crowley explained.

About 25 researchers from UK's colleges of Agriculture, Arts & Sciences, Business and Economics, Education, Engineering and Medicine have formed an interdisciplinary research and graduate training group on Comparative Decision Making (CDM) to take advantage of the diversity of viewpoints, methods and applications of decision-making analysis on campus and beyond.

The group meets regularly for seminars and plans to launch a new Graduate Certificate Program in Comparative Decision Making Studies, pending university approval.

To accelerate the CDM initiative, the group, led by an interdisciplinary team of UK organizers, has scheduled an international conference May 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Lexington. UK agricultural economics Professor Helen Pushkarskaya heads this organizing effort, in collaboration with computer science professor Judy Goldsmith, psychology professor Thomas Zentall and Crowley.

The conference will include distinguished visiting lecturers, faculty and student posters and discussions on how to encourage the development of the emerging CDM field.

"I'm really looking forward to meeting decision theorists from other disciplines," said Professor Evelyn Korn, an economist at the University of Marburg, Germany, and one of 14 invited speakers at the conference. "In my view, economists put too much emphasis on cognition." Korn is interested in decision-making based on the simpler organisms or computational systems studied by others attending the conference.

"In our increasingly complex and interconnected world, we need to understand better how individuals, organizations and even computers and non-human organisms make decisions," said University of Illinois education professor and invited speaker B.C. Bruce. "The Comparative Decision Making conference is a unique opportunity to share the latest research and to learn from the perspectives of a diverse array of disciplines."

Crowley and Zentall plan to edit a book to be published by Oxford University Press based on the invited presentations at the conference.

Conference funding was provided by the Office of the Provost, the deans of each of the participating colleges and the National Science Foundation.

For more information, please contact Pushkarskaya at (859) 257-8842 or helen.pushkarskaya@uky.edu.

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