Whose Work Most Influenced You? Part 5: A Social Science Bites Retrospective 

At the end of every interview that host David Edmonds conducts for the Social Science Bites podcast, he poses the same question: Whose work most influenced you? Those exchanges don’t appear in the regular podcast; we save them up and present them as quick-fire montages that in turn create a fascinating mosaic of the breadth and variety of the social and behavioral science enterprise itself. 

In this, the fifth such montage, we offer the latest collection. Again, a wide spectrum of influences reveals itself, including nods to non-social-science figures like philosopher Derek Parfit and primatologist Jane Goodall, historical heavyweights like Adam Smith and the couple Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and two past guests on Social Science Bites itself, Nobel Prize laureates Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman

Montage of guest photos include Richeson, Kitayama, Jasanoff, Kearney, Gigerenzer, List, and Goldin

This is the fifth collection in this series. Links to the other montages appear below.

To download this latest montage, right click HERE and ‘save.’ 

Whose Work Most Influenced You? Part 4: A Social Science Bites Retrospective

Whose Work Most Influenced You? A Social Science Bites Retrospective, Part 3

Whose Work Most Influenced You? A Social Science Bites Retrospective, Part 2

Whose Work Most Influenced You? A Social Science Bites Retrospective, Part 1

A transcript of this episode appears below.


David Edmonds: After I’ve interviewed social scientists for Social Science Bites, I try to remember to ask each of them a simple question: Which piece of social science research has most inspired or influenced them? Here’s the latest montage. 

Carsten de Dreu: So I’m Carsten de Dreu, and I’m a professor at Leiden University and I study conflict. The most influential paper, and I have been running around for now almost 30 years, so I take a paper that appeared, I think, about 15 years ago in Science magazine by a colleague of mine, Samuel Bowles. And he showed in that paper that throughout our evolution, humans were very cooperative together to fight outsiders. And he had a mathematical model and he had archaeological data. And as a psychologist, I looked at it and I thought, could this be true? But if that’s true, we should see this also in our hormones, in our brains, in our hearts and minds. And that triggered for me a line of work that I’m still busy with these days. So yeah, that was perhaps a defining paper for me and my career. Absolutely. 

Karin Barber: I’m Karin Barber, emeritus professor of African cultural anthropology at the University of Birmingham. I think of two books that I really love, and they made me think that anthropology was a humanities as well as a social science subject. One is called Feeling Arts, a book about, I think, religion and philosophy. And the other is Alfred Gell’s book, Art and Agency. It is just mind-expanding, highly original, fascinating book. Art and Agency made me think that art forms could be thought of in a different way from the standard Western categories of art being something you contemplate and put in a museum and so on. Alfred Gell conceptualized it as a kind of extension of the person, how people deposit elements of themselves in the environments, and how they do this in order to dazzle and to change other people. 

Bobby Duffy: I’m Bobby Duffy, I’m director of the policy institute at King’s College London. I think it’s Bob Putnam’s book Bowling Alone. The thing that really attracted me about it was the very strong data analysis and very clear revelation of patterns that I hadn’t seen before in such a simple way, and it was looking at cohorts over time, and how that actually proved some elements of his thesis about how we’ve seen a real shift that people were living lives very differently. And you could see this laid out in lines. It was just whole life stories of a changing society, just in a few lines in a chart that had real implications for policy, and practice on a key aspect that was already of interest to me about how connected or disconnected we were becoming as a society. So a lovely piece of clear work, data driven, but then woven into life stories that had real world implications around how we connect. 

Heaven Crawley: Okay, I’m Heaven Crawley, I’m director of the migration for development and equality hub, and I’m also head of equitable development and migration at the UN University’s Center for Policy Research in New York. It’s a very easy question, because Walter Rodney How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was a book that I read in the first year of my undergraduate degree in the African and Asian Studies part of the University of Sussex. So in the late 1980s, and it absolutely transformed how I understood the things that I had taken for granted. I was very young, of course, I hadn’t read that much. But, you know, Walter Rodney was a fantastic Guyanan scholar, who unfortunately died very young, but who left a legacy of research, really talking about how Europe’s involvement in Africa through colonialism, and through all the things that have happened subsequently, have really shaped the direction of travel for the continent. And it’s shaped how I think about everything, but it’s also my go-to when I get asked questions like this. 

David Dunning: I’m David Dunning. I’m a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in the United States. The answer I would give, if you could find it, would be [Richard] Nisbett and [Lee] Ross, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcoming in Human Reasoning. It was published in 1980 and it’s the reason why I’m a professor of psychology, because it basically asked the question, how good are people as scientists doing the type of reasoning that scientists do? And it found that there were systematic ways in which people diverged from being scientists in their everyday lives that led to errors and costs and calamities. And it was just an eye-opening book. It made me think, OK, not only am I going to go into psychology, I’m going to work with one of these guys and I did. I worked with Lee Ross. 

Ayelet Fishbach: I am Ayelet Fishbach. I’m a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. When I finished my dissertation, I finished my PhD at Tel Aviv University, I came to work with Arie Kruglanski at University of Maryland. And what I heard Lansky was, was interested in studying was how people pursue multiple goals. So basically understanding what he referred to as goal systems and the idea that there are many goals in each of these causes connected to a means of attainment and like these means they can inhibit some calls and facilitate other calls. There is a whole body of knowledge out there and things can get really complicated pretty quickly. But it kind of really opened my eyes. So at that point in my life, I was studying self-control conflicts, and it was always like two things that are in opposition, I realize that there is many more than two things. They don’t always compete with each other, they can support each other, they can be neutral to each other. And just understanding that the complexity and thinking about how people navigate their many goals in life and connections between these goals that just inspired so many new hypotheses that I will probably need to have more than one career and one lifetime to study. It is really one of the inspirations for my research, the work of Arie Kruglanski. 

Diego Gambetta: I’m Diego Gambetta. I’m currently the Carlo Alberto Chair in Social Sciences at the Collegio Carlo Alberto, Turin. There are similar candidates on the same level of importance. Probably, the writings of Thomas Schelling, they have been very influential for me. The writing of Jon Elster, he wrote a book called Ulysses and the Sirens, which appeared when I was writing my doctoral dissertation, Cambridge. There is a particular chapter in which he makes a distinction between different explanation in the social sciences, which was very important for me. It distinguished between explanation in which what does the trick is something that attracts you to, so your pull from the front, and is something you want to achieve, and an explanation, which pushes you from behind. This can be conscious explanation, like when you respect a norm simply because a norm must be respected, not because you want to achieve anything, or push you from behind because the constituting cognitive biases. So drew some distinction that in 1979, in the chaotic analytical mess in which the social sciences were swimming at the time, were really illuminating. 

Gerd Gigerenzer: I’m Gerd Gigerenzer and study decision-making under uncertainty. So one thing that really has had a big impact on my thinking is Herbert Simon‘s work on bounded rationality. And this bounded rationality he made more than what’s now has become bounded rationality, in the errors know, he was going for a revolution, meaning study how people make decisions in a world that is uncertain That’s fundamentally uncertainty over we cannot calculate the probabilities. 

Claudia Goldin: I am Claudia Goldin. I am the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. So I would say everything and anything that was written by Gary Becker. And the reason is that when I was a graduate student, I had never heard an economist who could model and think about human interactions, and Gary did, and that just set off light bulbs in my head. 

Kathryn Paige Harden: I’m Kathryn Paige Harden. I’m a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where I lead the developmental behavior genetics lab. Angus Deaton’s work on The Great Escape and then Deaths of Despair, which he did with Anne Case, has been incredibly influential for me because it highlights that education is not just something that matters for the classroom. It’s not something that just matters for how much money you make but can be literally a matter of life and death. Health and education are entwined and increasingly entwined. So I think Angus Deaton’s work has shown us a bright spotlight on who’s being left behind in American society. That should be a wakeup call for social scientists. 

Jonathan Haskel: I’m Jonathan Haskel, economics professor at Imperial College Business School, and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England. I think my most influential article is an article by Carol Corrado, Chuck Hulten, and Dan Sichel, about intangible investment. It was a short article, which recast the measurement of GDP for the intangible age, and it brought into GDP all the things which my friends were doing. They were doing intangible activities, like designers, software writers, developing artistic originals, marketing schemes, contract lawyers, and bringing in all of those activities made much more sense to me than the endless articles that I kept on reading about manufacturing. I didn’t know anybody who was in manufacturing. 

Hal Hershfield: I’m Hal Hershfield. I’m a professor of marketing behavioral decision-making in psychology at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. All right, Dave, I’m gonna buck the trend a little bit here and say, a philosopher, not necessarily a piece of social science research, Derek Parfit. His writing and thinking about identity has been hugely influential to me to help me understand the way that people might think of themselves over time as either changing or remaining stable. 

Sheila Jasanoff: So I’m Sheila Jasanoff and I’m professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, which is Harvard’s school of public policy. I think the one that has influenced me the most is probably Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. That is a book in political science, but it asks the question, what makes people hang together informations that you couldn’t have predicted? And I think one can look at knowledge communities in the same way as political communities, so transporting that idea from international relations and politics into the domain of science and technology was a very significant move for me. 

Melissa Kearney: I’m Melissa Kearney. I’m a professor of economics at the University of Maryland. I have an answer. I remember where I was, as an undergraduate college student, when I read Arthur Okun’s equity and efficiency book. And in that book, he basically talks about there’s sometimes a tradeoff between economic efficiency and transferring money and having a more equal society. That framework of equity versus efficiency has stayed with me for the 30 years that I’ve been thinking about economic policy in the US. And of course, the really beautiful thing is when you find ways to increase both equity and efficiency at the same time, but then when you find programs that might reduce one at the expense of the other, then we think we have to make hard decisions. And I think that framework is really powerful and disciplining, and it’s been a huge influence on my own thinking. 

Kathelijne Koops: Hi, my name is Kathelijne Koops. I’m a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich. And I’m the leader of the ape behavior and ecology group. The most influential piece of work for me, it’s more of a person than one piece of work specifically, would be Jane Goodall. I think without her, I might not have even ended up where I am now. She already when, when I was, I don’t know, my mom tells me 5 or 6 years old, I saw Jane Goodall on telly and I was blown away that that is something you can do as a job. You can watch chimpanzees and study them and that’s actually something that one can do. The last time I met her, it was a true honor because I got to present some of my work with Jane Goodall in the audience. So that was kind of like completely coming full circle. And we had great chats about research and fieldwork afterwards. 

John List: I’m John List. I’m a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and I’m the Chief Economist at Walmart. Absolutely, without a doubt, it’s Adam Smith, and its Wealth of Nations. And the reason why is not because it’s easy to read. It’s not. It’s very difficult to make it all the way through. But if you’re careful with your reading of Smith in various parts, it’s one part brilliant, and one part crystal clear in the explanations for example, on specialization in different economic concepts that really gives you some ingredients and some belief that you’re really learning from him and he’s talking to you. So that’s a book that really talked directly to me, in part because of the content, but also in part because of how it was elucidated. 

George Loewenstein: I’m George Loewenstein. I’m a behavioral economist, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. I would say that recently, I’ve been going over some of the work of Roy Baumeister, who is one of the most prolific and influential psychologists and in the last few years, I’ve sort of been mining some of his insights and finding them enormously useful in my own research. 

Ellen Peters: I’m Ellen Peters. I’m Philip H. Knight Chair and director of the Center for Science Communication Research at the University of Oregon. I’m also a professor in the School of Journalism and Communication as well as in the psychology department. The piece of social science research that’s probably been most influential on me was some work that was done by Paul Slovic on what he calls the psychometric paradigm. The psychometric paradigm has to do with risk perception. So a lot of my research is in risk perceptions, and this is older work so this is back from the 1980s,

probably maybe the late 70s even. It turns out that people’s risk perceptions are influenced by numbers. They’re influenced by the numeric risks that they know about that come from experts. So they’re influenced by mortality and morbidity. But they’re also influenced by more subjective factors that have to do with their feelings of dread about the risk, they’re influenced by its catastrophic potential, whether it’s going to affect future generations. And the reason that it influenced me so much is because it really reflects the grand importance of expert assessments of risk. It also highlights the importance of the individual person and the values and emotions that they bring to situations. And that balance of more numeric information and more emotion and emotion-related kinds of information is one that I always keep in mind combined with the way that Paul Slovic described it, about just the importance of those factors above and beyond expert assessments. That risk isn’t just about the experts, it’s also about the individuals who are affected and how they’re affected by hazards. I was very much affected by that, and still am for that matter. 

Petter Johansson: Hi. So I’m Petter Johansson, I’m an associate professor in cognitive science at Lund University. And I do research on choice blindness and preference change in attitude formation. We would be the books of Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained and Intentional Stance. That’s been the bedrock of all my thinking over the years. The main idea of intentional stance theory is to think of how we understand other people is similar to how we understand ourselves. There’s no fundamental difference. So I have a lot of data about myself and then I use that to interpret why I do things and who I am. And then I construct a narrative based on this interpretation. It’s not that I can look into myself and have perfect access to everything that drives me and my behavior and my emotions and my attitudes. I have a relationship with myself, which is quite similar to the relationship I have with close other people. 

Jennifer Richeson: Hi, my name is Jennifer Richeson. I’m a professor of social psychology at Yale. OK, so probably, Gordon Allport’s 1954 The Nature of Prejudice is probably the most influential, mostly because he said a lot. And there’s so many opportunities to test his brilliant insights. 

Raffaela Sadun: I’m Raffaella Sadun, and I’m a professor at Harvard Business School. For me, it’s been super helpful to read Peter Drucker‘s book. And I came into his work later in my career, not as a PhD student when I was already in a business school. And the reason why I think it’s important is because it’s insightful. This is a person that was close to managers, so he couldn’t see what they were doing and the challenges that they were having. But he was able to abstract the problem in a way that an economist would do. And so for me, he was the bridge between what I was studying in models and in the data and the reality of managing that. That’s why I found it so interesting and useful. 

Shinobu Kitayama: I’m Shinobu Kitayama. I’m a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. There are many obviously, but one piece that influenced me most is a book about cultural practices by Pierre Bourdieu, French anthropologist/philosopher. He basically argued that cultural practices shape agency. And as this agency become autonomous, it regenerates the culture from which it was derived. And after 20 or 30 years of having read his book, I seem to be following his footsteps with neuroscience, all sorts of fancy stuff. But conceptually, fundamental point of society, and the self are mutually interacting and mutually forming each other. That very insight was a very simple paragraph somewhere in his extremely dense book. To me, that was the biggest influence. 

Olivier Sibony: I’m Olivier Sibony. I’m a professor of strategy at ACC in Paris, and I’m the coauthor of Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. It’s not going to be a very original answer but I’d have to say it’s the original 1974 “Heuristics and Biases” paper by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Like so many other people, I was under the impression that human beings should conform to a rational model. And it just blew my mind to discover that there was a way to think about how people make decisions that did not conform to that rational model. And that did not assume that any deviation from the rational model was just a rounding error that could be ignored. 

Melanie Simms: I’m Melanie Simms, I’m a professor of work and employment at the University of Glasgow. And I have particular interest in worker voice and skills, and how managers plan and train for skills in the future. I think the answer is the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who were social scientists back in the late 1800s. Very much the forefather and foremother of my broad field of study industrial relations, founders of the London School of Economics. And I think if I had to pick one piece of their writing it’s a book called Industrial Democracy. And what they did in that book was lay out the basis of how we can think about work and employment, the imbalance of power in the relationship, the employment relationship. And think about why it’s so important that workers have a voice in that process of making decisions about what happens to them, in the at least eight hours a day that many of us spend in this crazy activity that we call employment. And they really helped us think carefully and clearly about that, and what the opportunities were for challenging employers who behaved badly, but also giving the state a clear role and saying the state has responsibility in this space for setting the rules of the game. And not just making sure that our employers don’t kill us when we’re at work but setting a set of rules about employment that integrate ideas about fairness, over the decisions that affect all of us when we’re in our employment. 

Deborah Small: Hi I’m Deborah Small. I am a professor of marketing at the Yale School of Management. OK, so I’ve been quite influenced by Peter Singer’s thought experiments, particularly the shallow-pond thought experiment. It motivated me to think about the ways in which people value human life differently across contexts. I thought it was a really useful way to point out to people the inconsistencies in the way in which they value life. 

Edmonds: Hope you enjoyed that montage.

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Social Science Bites

Welcome to the blog for the Social Science Bites podcast: a series of interviews with leading social scientists. Each episode explores an aspect of our social world. You can access all audio and the transcripts from each interview here. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @socialscibites.

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