What is Decision Research?

Left to right: Barbara Summers, Andrea Taylor, Yasmina Okan, Simon McNair, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Richard Hodgett, Alan Pearman and Gulbanu Kaptan
Centre for Decision Research

Decision Research focuses on the way individuals, groups and organisations make decisions. It involves perspectives that are:

  • Descriptive - why and how decisions are made the way they are,
  • Normative - how decisions should be made in some ideal sense, and
  • Prescriptive - how can decision making be made more effective.

It is concerned with how people make judgments and take decisions, particularly in situations involving risk and uncertainty. The research has provided important insights into how and why people do what they do, why they make mistakes that can lead to poor outcomes for themselves and their organisations, and how we can use this knowledge to help them do it better.

Theories and findings from decision research have been applied extensively in such areas as political science, finance, marketing, health, medicine, management and the law. These applications have provided important insights into how decisions are taken in these areas, some of the errors and mistakes made by people, including experts, and how to improve these decisions.

The Centre

Founded in March 1996, the Centre brings together researchers from across the University of Leeds, and other local Universities, who have an interest in human decision making. Its strong multi-disciplinary focus has led to research collaborations across a wide range of disciplines e.g. Computer Studies, Business and Management, Psychology, Philosophy, Transport Studies, Health Studies, Medicine, Civil Engineering, Geography, Law, Education. Despite the different fields of application, much of this work is based on a broadly shared theoretical and methodological core.

Members of the Centre carry out a broad range of research, much of it funded externally, publish extensively in academic journals, edited books and practitioner journals, as well as presenting at major national and international conferences. 

Latest News

Recent Highlights

10 June 2016

Barbara Summers has had a paper accepted in ABS4 journal Social Science and Medicine. Abhyankar, P., Velikova, G.; Summers, B. A., & Bekker, H. L. (2016). Identifying components in consent information needed to support informed decision making about trial participation: An interview study with women managing cancer, Social Science & Medicine, 161,

Wandi Bruine de Bruin had a paper accepted for publication in ABS4-journal Risk Analysis, entitled "Designing Graphs to Communicate Risks: Understanding How the Choice of Graphical Format Influences Decision Making", with Eric Stone, Abigail Rogers, and Abigail Boker from Wake Forest University and Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson from University of North Carolina. This project was funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Simon McNair, Barbara Summers, Wandi Bruine de Bruin and Rob Ranyard published a paper in ABS3-journal Personality and Individual Differences, entitled "Individual-level factors predicting consumer financial behavior at a time of high pressure." The paper laid the groundwork for Simon's recently awarded Leverhulme Fellowship.

Simon McNair has had a chapter accepted for publication in a book: Rob Ranyard, Sandie McHugh, Simon McNair (Forthcoming). The psychology of borrowing and over-indebtedness. In: Rob Ranyard (Ed.): Economic psychology: the science of economic mental life and behavior, Wiley-Blackwell's British Psychological Society Textbook series.

Simon and Barbara co-authored a research white-paper report for local financial support service Money Buddies (Leeds) entitled “Learning more about who has a Money Buddy through comparisons with the general population”. The full report is available to view online.

Wandi Bruine de Bruin presented conference papers at:

1. Workshop on Subjective Expectations. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US. "Measuring inflation expectations: Effects of wording, mode, and opportunities to revise"

2. American Psychological Society Pre-Conference on Opportunities for Advancing Behavioral and Social Research on Aging, Chicago IL, US. "Aging and decision-making competence"

3. Smithsonian Museum of Natural Science, Department of Mineral Sciences, Washington DC, US. "A behavioral decision research approach to developing effective communications"

Yasmina Okan gave an invited talk entitled "Graph risk literacy and embodiment: Implications for decision making about health" at a workshop on Information Visualization in the University of Potsdam (Germany), in May.

Simon has been invited to speak at the inaugural meeting of the newly-established Leeds Debt Advice Network, to take place on June 16th. The Network comprises debt advisers from both voluntary and professional sectors. Simon will take about his ongoing research with Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as his recently completed research with Money Buddies.

Andrea Taylor presented work on communicating uncertainty in seasonal forecasts (co-authored with Suraje Dessai and Wandi Bruine de Bruin) at the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making’s annual meeting.

Andrea is co-investigator on a successful bid for funding from the Medical Research Council. The project, which brings together researchers from York, Leeds, Strathclyde and Cambridge, will focus on developing a reference protocol for expert elicitation in health care decision making.

Trees put down roots for international climate centre launch

26 April 2016

The University of Leeds commemorated the signing of a landmark global agreement on climate change on Friday 22 April – Earth Day – by planting apple trees on campus that will also bear fruit for a new centre for climate research.

The planting, which was done by the Priestley International Centre for Climate, is part of a worldwide social media campaign linking the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement with an ambitious initiative to plant a network of 8 billion trees, equivalent to one for every man, woman and child alive.

More than 160 countries, including the UK, will take part in the historic signing of the agreement in New York on Earth Day, which was negotiated in Paris in December 2015. Academics at the Priestley Centre, the University’s new strategic centre for climate change research, took part in the UN summit and are actively engaged in research on transition pathways to turn the agreement into actions.

The Priestley Centre’s apple trees – an Elstar and a Discovery – were donated to the Priestley Centre by the United Bank of Carbon and supplied by Leeds City Council Parks and Countryside Redhall Nursery. They were planted near the entrance to the School of Earth and Environment, and will provide free fruit snacks to students and staff and benefiting pollinators, in accordance with the University’s biodiversity strategy.

Piers Forster, Professor of Physical Climate Change and the Priestley Centre’s director, planted the trees assisted by Deputy Director Wandi Bruine de Bruin.

“I’m delighted for us to play a practical role in marking the Paris Agreement,” said Piers Forster. “We are also using it to announce our own launch in June, so by planting the trees on Earth Day we putting down roots for Priestley and the planet.”

The Priestley Centre, which represents an investment of £6million over 5 years by the University of Leeds, will launch formally on 14 June 2016 with a VIP Leeds alumnus awarding an international prize for climate change research. There will also be a public evening event in the form of a ‘Climate Question Time’ chaired by Carbon Brief editor Leo Hickman with main speaker Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change and other experts from the fields of government, policy and climate science.

The Climate Question Time debate is at the Rupert Becket Lecture on 14 June at 7.30pm (registration and refreshments from 7.00pm). The event is open to all and tickets are free but pre-booking is essential.

The internal launch event and prize-giving (open to University of Leeds staff and PhD students and invited guests) will be attended by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, and takes place from 3.00-5.30pm at the Leeds University Business School. Places are limited; book via Eventbrite.

This article first appeared on the Priestley International Centre for Climate website.

Recent activities

9 March 2016

Emeritus Professor John Maule and part-time LUBS doctoral student Simon Maule have had the following article published: ‘Aiding Lay Decision Making Using a Cognitive Competencies Approach’, Frontiers in Psychology, (2016). The work builds on two reports commissioned by the UK Legal Service Board: ‘Understanding Decision Making in Legal Services: Lessons from Behavioural Economics’ and ‘An Assessment of the Most Effective Methods to Support Consumers to Identify and Respond to Legal Problems’.

Andrea Taylor and Wändi Bruine de Bruin had a paper accepted in ABS4-rated Journal of Experimental Psychology:Applied, entitled "Promoting protection against a threat that evokes positive affect: The case of heatwaves in the UK." (With Carmen Lefevre at UCL, Suraje Dessai at the University of Leeds' School of Earth and Environment, Baruch Fischhoff at Carnegie Mellon University, and Sari Kovats at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). It was funded by Wändi's ESRC grant on public perceptions of heat waves.

Wändi had a paper accepted in Psychology and Aging (impact factor 2.6) entitled "Choosing to be happy? Age differences in 'maximizing' decision strategies and experienced emotional well-being" (with Andrew Parker at the RAND Corporation and JoNell Strough at West Virginia University).

Wändi also had a paper accepted in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, entitled "Understanding the formation of consumers’ stock market expectations." (With Alycia Chin from the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

Wändi gave a presentation at the Netspar International Pension Workshop in Leiden, the Netherlands, about her paper "Choosing to be happy? Age differences in 'maximizing' decision strategies and experienced emotional well-being" (with Andrew Parker at the RAND Corporation and JoNell Strough at West Virginia University).

She also gave a company-wide seminar at Bayer (Leverkusen, Germany) on behavioural decision research approaches to developing effective communications

External roles:
Wändi joined the US National Academy of Sciences' expert panel on the Science of Science Communication, which will produce an expert consensus report on how to improve scientists' communications with non-expert audiences. She also joined the Communications Committee at the Psychonomics Society.

Alan Pearman has been appointed as a Council Member of the International Association of Grey Systems and Uncertainty analysis.

Barbara Summers has joined the Supervisory Board of the journal Judgment and Decision Making (ABS 3*), which is run by the Society for Judgment and Decision Making (USA) and the European Association for Decision Making. 

Barbara has also been invited to join the scientific committee of the 2016 International Association for Research in Economic Psychology/Society for the Advancement of behavioural Economics conference in Wageningen, the Netherlands.

Gabriella Eriksson (Swedish Transport Institute and University of Stockholm) was awarded with a 2-year EU Horizon2020 Marie Curie Fellowship to visit Leeds. She will work with Wändi Bruine de Bruin as well as with Natasha Merat (Institute for Transport Studies) to understand and improve drivers' judgments about speeding risks.

Yasmina Okan co-authored the poster ‘Green = Benefit? Communicating health risks with icon arrays: The influence of color’ (with Gudrun Rauwolf, Michelle McDowelle and Matthias Ziegler) presented at the 17th Annual Meeting of the German Network for Evidence-Based Medicine Meeting in Koln, Germany, in March. The poster received the Best Scientific Poster Award.

In February Simon McNair was awarded one of Leeds University Business School inaugural Research Impact Awards, in the early career researcher category. The award was for his ongoing research in how we might use behavioural insights to develop more effective financial advice and support. Through this research agenda he has worked with local community groups in Leeds such as the United Leeds Debt Forums, and Money Buddies. He is next set to upscale this work as part of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship he was awarded, set to begin in May 2016. The Fellowship will see Simon work with Citizens Advice Bureau in Bradford and Leeds (CAB is the largest independent provider of financial advice in the UK). Media-wise, Simon’s research has seen him interviewed by Radio Aire, Made in Leeds TV, and The Yorkshire Post.

Wändi also won a Research with Impact award for her project – “Consumer Surveys Informing Monetary Policy”. You can read about her project on the Research and Innovation blog

Media coverage:
Marie Curie fellow Dr. Caezilia Loibl (who visited CDR from The Ohio State University, US) had her research on financial 'nudge' interventions covered in the New York Times.

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