Judgment and Decision Making in Systems Design

To develop a better understanding the social and psychological factors of systems design practice, I focus on Judgment and Decision Making (JDM) in systems design practice. JDM is an interdisciplinary field situated between psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and other disciplines interested in cognition and decision making.

An Intertemporal choice: What do you prefer –

  • A 92% chance for one truffle now?
  • or a 66% chance for two truffles tomorrow?

Decisions that involve uncertain outcomes at different points in the future are known as “intertemporal choices” in Judgment and Decision Making research. But despite decades of research in this area, we don’t quite know how people make decisions that involve uncertain outcomes at different points in the future, especially in systems design – and intertemporal choices are ubiqutuous in systems design. Initial literature reviews in Software Engineering and Technical Debt raised a lot of questions.

Since 2018, I am conducting a series of studies in intertemporal choice in system design. We began with simple gambles similar to the truffle choice above to understand if software professionals discount future outcomes, successfully replicated the initial study across several countries, and are now conducting cognitive studies of the factors that influence their decision making.

I am especially interested in the differences between prescriptive engineering models and descriptive studies. Plenty of engineering methods prescribe how engineers should make those decisions, but how do people really think about them? In other disciplines, it has become very clear that prescriptive models do not have all the answers:

“50 years of dominance of the rational choice model has left so many important questions unanswered”

G. Loewenstein, S. Rick, and J. D. Cohen, “Neuroeconomics,” Annu.
Rev. Psychol., vol. 59, pp. 647–672, 2008

These studies are ongoing, and we’re actively looking for collaborators to join on field studies. Please get in touch if you’re interested.