UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Previous LJDM seminars

Here you can find a list of abstracts from previous speakers that have joined us for a LJDM seminar. Links to recordings will also be posted here!

21/22 Academic year


Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

Dr Mohsen Mosleh (University of Exeter)

Understanding and reducing the spread of misinformation online

There has been a great deal of concern about the negative impacts of online misinformation on democracy and society. In this talk, I provide an overview of my research on understanding why people share misinformation and how to combat spread of low-quality content online. I first focus on the why question and describe a hybrid lab-field study in which Twitter users (N=1,901) complete a cognitive survey. I show that people who rely on intuitive gut responses over analytical thinking share lower quality content. I then build on this observation with a Twitter field experiment (N= 5,379) that uses a subtle intervention to nudge people to think about accuracy. I show the intervention significantly improve the quality of the news sources they shared subsequently. Finally, I will talk about a follow-up study where we directly correct Twitter users (N=2000) who shared misinformation by replying to their false tweets by including a link to the fact-checking website. We show that unlike the subtle accuracy nudge, the direct public correction results in users sharing lower quality content. Our experimental design translates directly into an intervention that social media companies could deploy to fight misinformation online.


Wednesday 17th of November 2021

Professor Ken Manktelow (University of Wolverhampton)

Peter Wason: Beyond reasoning

Peter Wason spent his entire career as a psychologist, from undergraduate to emeritus, at UCL. His research was characterised by extraordinary creativity: he was the principal instigator of a whole field, the psychology of reasoning, and introduced many of the methods, and some of the important theoretical ideas, that remain current to this day. Two of the most important figures in the field were students of his at UCL, as were many others. He also made important contributions to psycholinguistics, pure and applied, and to the study of writing. In this talk, based on a recently published biography, we shall look at aspects of his background and personal history that help explain how he did what he did.


Wednesday 24th of November 2021

 Dr Claire Heard (LSE)

Title: Acting pro-socially? Factors influencing the decision to provide first aid during single and mass casualty events.

There is a growing appreciation of the potential role the public could play in responding to mass casualty events (e.g. the 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing). However, most research on people’s willingness to provide first aid has focussed on smaller scale emergency scenarios. Across 15 interviews with first-aid practitioner and 10 public focus groups (n=54), we investigated the factors which affect people’s decisions to offer first aid in response to three scenarios: a cardiac arrest, an acid-attack, and a mass-casualty event. Through thematic analysis, we identify barriers/facilitators to helping and differences between scenarios including beliefs about situational ambiguity and danger (uncertainty and risk), treatment urgency, first-aid skill simplicity, the role of other bystanders, and differing emotional responses to the emergency.


Wednesday 1st of December 2021

Dr Simon Stephan (University of Göttingen)

The interplay between covariation, temporal, and mechanism information in singular causation judgements

Singular causation queries (e.g., “Did Mary’s taking contraceptives cause her thrombosis?”) are ubiquitous in everyday life and crucial in many professional disciplines, such as medicine or law. Knowledge about general causal regularities is necessary but not sufficient for establishing a singular causation relation, because it is possible that co-occurrences consistent with known regularities are in an individual case still just coincidental. Thus, further cues are helpful to establish a singular causation relation. One such cue is information about the temporal relation between the possible causes of an effect. A further cue that I will focus on in my talk is information about causal mechanisms. What has been missing in the literature on causal reasoning is a formal model of singular causation judgments explaining why mechanism is helpful in the assessment of singular causation. In my talk, I will present a computational model that we proposed that integrates covariation, temporal, and mechanism information to predict whether two co-occurred events were causally connected instead of a mere coincidence. The model not only provides a formal explanation of why mechanism information is helpful in the assessment of singular causation relations, but also can be used to identify factors that restrict the utility of mechanism information. The results of several experiments we conducted suggest that most reasoners systematically use mechanism information, largely in accordance with our formal model. However, we also find that some people seem to rely on simpler, computationally less demanding reasoning strategies. Our studies also suggest that reasoners also understand when mechanism information is less helpful.


Wednesday 8th of December 2021

Dr Christopfer Bryan (University of Texas)

Values alignment: An alternative to pragmatic appeals for behavior change

Abstract: The science of behavior change has become an increasingly important frontier in the quest to improve human health and well-being. Recognition of this is now widespread in the scientific community, but the science of behavior change—the development of effective, empirically validated techniques for producing lasting, internalized motivation for the behavioral choices people know they should be making but usually do not—is still badly underdeveloped. Most public appeals to engage in such “should” behaviors (e.g., exercise, eat healthily, save for the future, conserve energy) focus on the pragmatic reasons why those behaviors are important. The problem with this approach is that such pragmatic appeals lack the motivational immediacy to drive the needed changes in behavior for reasons psychologists have understood for decades. Here, I suggest an alternative approach: reframing should behaviors in terms that emphasize how those behaviors serve the values that are already immediate and important to the people whose behavior one seeks to change. I demonstrate the potential of this approach using the example of an intervention to get adolescents to adopt healthier dietary habits by framing manipulative food marketing as a subversion of important adolescent values, including autonomy from adult control and social justice.


Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

Dr Yefim Roth (University of Haifa)

Decisions from Valuations of Unknown Payoff Distributions

Four experiments are presented that clarify the impact of experience on the way people use valuations. In each of the 100 trials of Study 1, participants were asked to choose between the status quo and an unknown binary lottery based on valuations by two expert systems: a well-calibrated “expert” reporting the expected values, and an expert that ignores the low probability outcome and reports the medians (that equaled the modes). The results suggest that experience decreased the inclination to follow the recommendation of the well-calibrated expert. This deviation from maximization appears to reflect two biases: the tendency to follow the expert that has recommended the action that provided higher payoff in most cases, and the tendency to follow the more extreme valuation. Studies 2 and 3 suggest similar reliance on experts that recommend the best choice in most trials, in choices between two payoff distributions, and even when these experts do not provide the median or the mode of the distributions. Study 4 shows that the impact of experts that direct people toward the optimal choice can be increased by exaggeration (inflating the estimated advantage of the payoff maximizing option). However, the long-term impact of exaggeration depends on the proportion of cases in which the optimal choice leads to the best payoff; a lasting positive effect of exaggeration was observed only when this proportion was high. These results can be captured by assuming several “expert weighting rules” and the selection between the rules based on small samples of past experiences. 

Recording available below!
 YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh8mEsGbblY&ab_channel=LJDMUCL


Wednesday 9th of February 2022

Dr Dawn Holford (University of Bristol)

The role of pragmatic inferences in communication and decision-making

In this talk, I present a series of empirical work that tested the different pragmatic inferences that people make when given a piece of information. In three series of empirical studies (covering 16 experiments) that used different contexts (e.g., food, health, COVID-19), we showed that people make inferences about what the “speaker” means, beyond what is there in the written information. We found that people take cues (1) from the way information is framed and (2) from the context of the situation to reach conclusions about (a) whether the speaker recommends an action or item and (b) what are the relevant events to focus on. I will discuss these findings and avenues for future research, particularly in the context of health and risk communication and the COVID-19 pandemic.


Wednesday 16th of March 2022

Dr Nura Sidarus (university of Royal Holloway)

Who's in control? Prospective contributions to the sense of agency

Human voluntary action is typically accompanied by an experience of being in control of our actions and their consequences, referred to as sense of agency. Previous research has shown that the sense of agency relies on a retrospective comparison between expected and observed action outcomes. Our work has shown that there is also a prospective component to the sense of agency, related to the metacognitive monitoring of decision-making processes. Difficult decisions reduce our sense of agency over action outcomes. These effects generalise across tasks, from unconscious to conscious manipulations, in dynamic video games, and in social contexts. I will discuss the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying these prospective contributions to the sense of agency, and how they are integrated with outcome-related information. Furthermore, I will consider the implications of this work for understanding decision-making and learning processes, in both individual and social contexts.

Please click here for seminar.

Wednesday 23rd of March 2022

Dr Jonathan Rolison (University of Essex)

The psychological processes that drive self-reported risk preference

Why are some people more willing than others to take risks? While behavioural tasks (e.g., monetary lotteries) are often regarded as a gold standard for capturing a person’s risk preference, recent studies have found stated preferences (e.g., responses to hypothetical scenarios) to exhibit higher reliability, convergent validity, and test-retest stability. Yet, relatively little is known about the psychological processes underlying stated preferences. Central to the stated preference approach is the notion that people’s perceived risks and benefits are integrated in a trade-off to determine their risk propensity. I will discuss the results of studies designed to cast a light on the psychological processes that drive people’s risk preference. The results of these studies indicate that some people intentionally evaluate the risks and benefits of activities when deriving their risk propensity, resulting in more consistent integration of perceived risks and benefits. Associations with thinking dispositions indicate that participants who deliberately compute risk-reward trade-offs are more disposed to analytic thinking. The studies also reveal a broad repertoire of processes/representations that people report using for evaluating activities. The processes/representations people use are stable over time, associated with thinking dispositions, and influence their risk preference. The findings also provide causal evidence to underpin the as-if psychological risk-return model of risk preference.


22/23 Academic Year

Wednesday 16th November 2022

Prof. John Thogersen (University of Aarhus) 

Positive, negative, or graded sustainability labelling? Which is most effective at promoting a shift towards more sustainable product choices?

Sustainability labels convey information about different product attributes, such as its environmental impact, lifespan, or ethical performance. The labelling can be either positive (only identifying the most sustainable products available on the market), negative (only identifying the least sustainable products available on the market), or graded (comparing the sustainable performance of a product with that of all other products on the market). The goal of this research was to assess the relative performance of these three labelling approaches in terms of influencing product choices. A nationally representative sample of 1,243 consumers from Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic participated in an online discrete choice experiment with real incentives. Compared with positive and negative labels, graded labels were most effective in guiding consumers towards more sustainable product choices. These findings support policy interventions that convey product sustainability with graded labels. This research was done in collaboration with researchers in the EU Commission’s Joint Research Center.

Talk recording: https://youtu.be/uJxwjx1jL2g

Wednesday 23rd November 2022 

Kerem Oktar (Princeton University) 

How Beliefs Persist When Millions Disagree

People have the remarkable ability to remain steadfast in their beliefs in the face of societal disagreement. For example, most people remain unmoved in their views regarding the ethics of abortion, the existence of God, or the reality of anthropogenic climate change despite knowing that millions disagree. This has important consequences (e.g., societal polarization), yet its psychological underpinnings are poorly understood. In this talk, I will discuss three experiments that lead to the following conclusions: First, participants are typically aware of societal disagreement about controversial issues, yet overwhelmingly (~90%) do not question their views if asked to reflect on this disagreement. Second, we find that participants rely on distinct ‘paths’ to persist in their views across domains (Experiments 1-2), and that these paths have causal and interdependent effects on the tendency to remain anchored to one’s views (Experiment 3). We also find evidence that questioning one’s view is most likely to occur when all paths to persistence are blocked—which may help explain the ubiquity of persistent societal disagreement.

Talk Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMoAxO9djNk

Wednesday 30th November 2022 

Dr. Laura Corbit (University of Toronto) 

Understanding the balance between goal-directed and habitual control

A substantial number of studies now show that experiences such as diet or exposure to drugs promote habitual behavioural control. The shift from flexible to habitual control could be the result of direct effects on the habit system which strengthen stimulus-response learning. Alternatively, the effects could be indirect, acting instead to undermine function of, and control by the goal-directed system thus allowing early control by the habit system. These possibilities are difficult to differentiate with either behavioural or neural tools alone. I will present data from recent studies that are beginning to reveal specific effects of drug or diet exposure on decision-making capacity and behavioral control. Distinguishing between excessive habitual control and weakened goal-directed control will be important for improving behvaioural control following exposure to drugs, certain diets or stress.

Talk Recording: https://youtu.be/ecaCQlDZSPg

Wednesday 7th December 2022

Prof. Dr. Andreas ­Voß (University of Heidelberg) 

A Lévy-Flight Model of Decision Making

Most cognitive models of decision-making assume a continuous process of evidence accumulation. Typically, evidence accumulation is considered noisy, i.e. it is determined by a combination of stimulus information and random noise. The combination of a constant systematic rate of information accumulation and Gaussian noise is described mathematically by a diffusion process, which gives the name to the most influential model of this class, the diffusion model. One problem with the standard diffusion model is that additional processes must be included to explain fast errors typically seen in rapid perceptual decisions. For example, in the diffusion model, we need to introduce the assumption of trial-to-trial variations in the starting point position to explain fast errors. In contrast to this approach, we hypothesise that the process of evidence accumulation itself causes fast errors (e.g., fast guessing). In our model, guessing-like processes in evidence accumulation are reflected by large sudden changes ("jumps") in evidence accumulation. This can be explained mathematically by replacing Gaussian noise with a heavy-tailed noise distribution (e.g., the Cauchy distribution), thereby replacing the diffusion process with a Lévy flight. In a series of experiments, we demonstrate the superior ability of the Lévy-flight model to explain behavioural data from different experimental paradigms.


Wednesday 11th January 2023 

Prof. Dr. Joachim ­Funke (University of Heidelberg) 

50 years research on complex problem solving: What are the results?

The slides have been provided by the speaker available for distribution and can be found here.

Wednesday 18th January 2023 

Prof. Julia Nafziger (University of Aarhus) 

Nudging in complex environments (joint with Dan Monster and Alexander Koch)

We study the effects of reminder nudges using a novel experimental approach based on a computer game that aims to promote awareness of food safety and foster risk-reducing behavior among consumers. The game exposes participants to a complex environment in which they have to pay attention to and perform multiple, different kinds of food safety and cooking actions within a short period of time. The set-up allows us to test the effect of reminders not only on the reminded, but also on non-reminded actions and thus to observe whether nudges have (positive or negative) spillovers. Further, it allows us to test the effects of multiple vs. single reminders. We test the effects both in the short and long run, i.e., after the withdrawal of the reminder. We observe that both single and multiple nudges have positive effects in the short run -- multiple reminders more so than single reminders: while they lead to crowding-out of non-reminded actions, the positive effect on reminded action dominates. Yet, after withdrawal of the reminders, the negative spillover effect prevails, while the positive effect becomes very small so that, overall, reminders have no effect.

Talk Recording: https://youtu.be/fKEkUkwhG9I


Wednesday 1st February 2023 

Dr Avishalom Tor (Notre Dame Law School)

When Should Governments Invest More in Nudging?

Highly influential recent work by Benartzi et al. (2017) argues—based on comparisons of the respective effectiveness and costs of behavioral interventions (or nudges) versus traditional instruments—that nudges offer more cost-effective means than traditional interventions for changing individual behavior to achieve desirable policy goals. These authors further argue that nudges' cost-effectiveness advantage means that governments and other organizations should increase their investments in such instruments to supplement traditional interventions. Yet a closer look at Benartzi et al.’s (2017) own data and analysis reveals that they variously exclude and include key cost elements to the benefit of behavioral instruments over traditional ones and overstate the utility of cost-effectiveness analysis for policy selection. Once these methodological shortcomings are corrected, a reassessment of key policies evaluated by the authors reveals that nudges do not consistently outperform traditional interventions, neither under cost-effectiveness analysis nor under the methodologically required cost-benefit analysis. These illustrative findings demonstrate that governments should strive to conduct cost-benefit analyses of competing interventions, including nudges, to implement the most efficient of the available instruments.

Wednesday 8th February 2023 

Dr Joshua Becker (UCL)

Does communication improve the wisdom of crowds?  It depends on the question

Research on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ has consistently shown that one way to improve the accuracy of numeric estimates such as economic forecasting is by using the average estimate of multiple individual contributors, rather than relying on one single person. However, decades of lab experiments have produced contradictory results about whether and when communication between group members makes the resulting average more accurate or less accurate. Thus despite the existence of over 100k results on Google scholar using the “Delphi method” form of information exchange, we lack clear evidence that this method is actually better than unstructured discussion, or that any form of communication is better than none. This talk will explain contradictions in prior research by showing how emergent network centralization interacts with pre-communication estimate distribution such that communication sometimes increases accuracy and sometimes decreases accuracy. Using a formal model of estimate formation and experimental data, I will argue that the fixed effect paradigm—i.e. the assumption that any form of communication is always either helpful or harmful—must be replaced with a model that depends on the particular estimation task under consideration. I will conclude by discussing some limitations of this model for describing true deliberation, sharing some new research under development, and opening the floor for collaborative speculation and brainstorming on how future research might address these topics.

The seminar is to be held in person at room 305, 26 Bedford Way, UCL.

Talk Recording: https://youtu.be/ilfqaNcECWQ

Wednesday 22nd February 2023 

Speaker: Dr Venessa Brown (University of Pittsburgh)

Contextual and individual factors affecting exploration/exploitation decisions

In uncertain environments, organisms must decide whether to seek out uncertain, potentially better options (explore) versus exploit known good options. This choice, known as the explore/exploit dilemma, has been shown to be affected by factors such as the choice horizon and form of uncertainty. However, how many features of real-world environments, including cognitive complexity and outcome valence, affect explore/exploit decisions is unknown. Here, I present results from a series of studies examining how people manage the explore/exploit dilemma differently under different forms of cognitive load and when maximizing rewards versus minimizing different kinds of losses. I will also show how individual differences, notably anxiety, affect explore/exploit behavior.


Wednesday 15th March 2023

Dr Felix Cheung (University of Toronto)

Psychology at Times of War and Conflict

Abstract: The Russo-Ukrainian War has far-reaching consequences for the world. Not only has the War changed life in Ukraine drastically, but it has also led to the prioritization of military spending, the reconsideration of the role of international coalitions, and the additional scrutiny of refugee policies. This talk highlights 4 studies that address these issues using diverse samples across continents (total N = 1,382,294). The first study drew on representative data from 16,404 Ukrainian participants and documented Ukrainians’ historical resilience during the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Protest. The second study showed that diverting public spending towards the military poses a well-being cost to citizens. The third study found both short- and long-term well-being benefits for joining the EU. The fourth study examined the refugee crisis and found no evidence that greater influx of refugees is related to poorer life satisfaction in the host populations. Together, these studies 1) introduce new conceptual insights and methodological advances on the psychology of war and conflict, 2) question the temporal generalizability of psychology, and 3) call for the prioritization of psychological research towards pressing global affairs.

Wednesday 10th May 2023

Patricia Sanchez (University of Toronto)

Using Popular Media to Drive Social Change

Adnan Syed, a man who served 23 years in prison for a murder he insisted he did not commit, recently had his conviction vacated and has been released as a free man. Importantly, his case was featured on the extremely popular podcast Serial, and legal experts, scholars, and journalists all have cited the popularity of this podcast as key in the overturning of Adnan’s conviction. This example demonstrates the power that popular media can have creating public pressure to drive change. Although this is a promising example, research shows the effects of popular media coverage may be more complex. In this talk, I will discuss research on what the public understands about the psychology of certain forms of evidence (eyewitness errors and false confessions) and whether being presented with information about the reliability of evidence in a documentary clip can help viewers become more discerning decision-makers. 

Wednesday 17th May 2023

Neil Bramley (University of Edinburgh)

Active causal structure learning in continuous time

Research on causal cognition has largely focused on learning and reasoning about contingency data aggregated across discrete observations or experiments. However, this setting represents only the tip of the causal cognition iceberg. A more general problem lurking beneath is that of learning the latent causal structure that connects events and actions as they unfold in continuous time. We examine how people actively learn about causal structure in a continuous-time setting, focusing on when and where they intervene and how this shapes their learning. Across two experiments, we find that participants’ accuracy depends on both the informativeness and evidential complexity of the data they generate. Moreover, participants’ intervention choices strike a balance between maximizing expected information and minimizing inferential complexity. People time and target their interventions to create simple yet informative causal dynamics. We discuss how the continuous-time setting challenges existing computational accounts of active causal learning, and argue that metacognitive awareness of one’s inferential limitations plays a critical role for successful learning in the wild.

The seminar will take place in a hybrid format, both in person at UCL (Room 305, 26th Bedford Way) and online. Please click here for seminar. 


Wednesday 24th May 2023

Rani Moran (Queen Mary University of London)

Cognitive Maps Guide Credit Assignment

An extensive reinforcement learning literature has paid considerable attention to how cognitive maps serve choice by allowing agents to prospectively compute values of task-states during planning. But whether and how knowledge of a cognitive map contributes to the way agents assign credit during reward-feedback (i.e., how they revaluate actions and task-states following the receipt of an outcome) remains underexplored. In many real-life situations attributing reward-outcomes to underlying task-states and actions is difficult and hence credit assignment is challenging. Importantly, knowledge stored in a cognitive map can aid reward-attribution and hence, guide credit assignment. I will present evidence that in situations entailing state-uncertainty (i.e., important aspects of the decision environment are latent) or exuberant reward-feedback (which only partially relates to one’s actions), humans exploit knowledge stored in a cognitive map to guide credit assignment. I will discuss how these findings broaden our understanding regarding the scope of functions cognitive maps serve in adaptation and I will argue that they call for a more nuanced conceptualization of model-based and model-free control processes and their interactions.

Wednesday 31st May 2023

Daryl O'Connor (University of Leeds)

Stress: The Quiet Killer 

This talk will argue that stress may indirectly contribute to health risk and reduced longevity to the extent that it produces deleterious changes in diet and/or helps maintain maladaptive health behaviours as well as directly by influencing biological processes across the life span (e.g., blood pressure, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning). Studies investigating the relationship between chronic stress, perseverative cognition, the cortisol response and health outcomes will be presented. The second half of the talk will describe work investigating the effects of childhood trauma and the role of HPA axis responses to stress in vulnerability to suicide as well as recent studies into the mental health effects of COVID-19. The importance of studying the effects of stress across the life course and developing stress management interventions will also be highlighted.