Using Human Nature to Improve Human Life
The Center for Decision Research hosted a preconference to 2008's SJDM Annual Meeting, featuring research on how basic knowledge about human nature (fundamental motives, habits, biases, limitations, etc.) can be used to improve individual and social welfare. The preconference was held on November 14, 2008, and took place at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago.
Research on human judgment and decision making has enriched our understanding of some of the basic features and limitations of human nature. People do not operate with perfect knowledge, unlimited mental capacity, complete self-control, or a perfect ability to appreciate the future as much as the present. These basic features of human nature do not make people inherently flawed, just inherently human. Attempts to improve human life require an understanding of these basic features of human nature in order to design policies and interventions that work within the people's inherent constraints. Public policy has long been guided by a view of human nature provided by homo economicus, but public policy should also be informed by the psychological understanding of homo sapiens. Those designing organ donation policies, for instance, would do well to note that people are heavily influenced by the default option. Those designing savings programs would do well to note that people value future dollars much less than current dollars. And those designing weight loss programs would do well to note that people will eat whatever portion size is placed in front of them. Psychological research has a role to play in public policy debates and in designing social welfare interventions. This conference provided a forum in which to present that research.