Joshua Moller-Mara

Uncertainty, Herding, and Information Cascades in the Brain

My research involves various aspects of decision making in social situations. When making decisions, people generally don’t have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. So, to make up for this lack of information, people rely on the behavior and decisions of others. This occurs in many everyday situations, for example, in choosing a restaurant to dine in based on the number of patrons. In certain situations, this behavior can be rational. In what are called “”information cascades”” people rationally follow the actions of others, even when their own information goes against the decisions of others. I am interested in what factors influence this herding behavior, and to what degree it differs from an optimal Bayesian strategy. How do people weight their own private evidence against the public decisions of others? Are there heuristics used in decision making that are non-optimal in certain situations?

Message to Sponsor

I am honored, excited, and grateful to receive the SURF grant. SURF provides me the rare opportunity to do research full time with complete focus on a subject that I, personally, am interested in. Furthermore, SURF provides an invaluable support network of peers and advisors who I can go to for help instead of perpetually banging my head on the wall in isolation. In terms of "economic incentives", I might, semi-jokingly, remark that SURF also acts as having "skin in the game" for completing a senior honors thesis and eventually pursuing graduate school.
  • Major: Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Statistics
  • Sponsor: Pergo Fund
  • Mentor: Ming Hsu, Haas School of Business