Meet the professor: Lee Newman

Written on June 16, 2010 by Roberto Arribas in General, Highlights, Psychology

     Could you tell us about your professional and academic experiences so far?

If asked to capture my experiences in a word, I think the best answer would be interdisciplinary. I have always had an interest in science and technology – in analyzing and understanding how things work.  Academically, I first pursued this interest by studying electrical engineering at university.  I was then interested in broader issues of how corporations might effectively manage research and development, and how governments might develop and implement effective science and technology policy.  After earning an MBA and a Masters in Technology Policy, I took a job as a management consultant. My clients were large corporations and I conducted a wide range of projects ranging from improving the efficiency of a failing iron mine to helping a national snack-food company optimize the way they priced, distributed and displayed their products in supermarkets.  With the rise of the Internet, I left consulting to start two technology companies.  In the first, we developed a very early version of “facebook” and we were later acquired.   In the second company, we developed and sold web-based employee management tools and grew to 50 employees in three offices.  With 9/11 and the bursting of the Internet bubble, I thought hard about what to do next and decided to return to academia to pursue doctoral studies that combined cognitive psychology and computer science.  As a professor at IE, I now conduct basic and applied research in which I use behavioral experiments and computer models to study human judgment and decision making. 

     How and when did you get in touch with IE University? Do you develop any specific role?

My wife and I were interested in relocating to Europe.  I remembered having read an article in The Economist (Dec 30, 2008) about a highly successful business school in Spain that was launching an undergraduate institution and seeking to “re-invent the university”.  The school was building a new type of educational institution that would combine the best of US-style liberal arts education with the more practical, career-focused aspects of the European system. This school turned out to be IE University. I did my homework, made some calls, had some meetings and discovered what proved to be a great opportunity.   At IE University I feel I am able to take advantage of each of the different aspects of my background – in my research, my teaching and the many entrepreneurial projects in which I am involved in our organization.

     What course/courses do you teach? Why is this course/are these courses important for a student of Psychology?

I teach courses that focus on human judgment and decision making.  How do we predict future events based on our past experience? Why are many of our decisions inherently biased and prone to error?  How can we make better judgments and decisions?   These are important questions that have practical real-world implications for psychologists, managers, economists, policy makers, and many others.  Decision making is a highly interdisciplinary topic that brings into the classroom theories, models, and ideas from cognitive and social psychology, decision science, behavioral economics, and the nascent field of neuroeconomics.  These are exciting times in the behavioral sciences, and I try to bring this excitement into the classroom.  

     Could you give us three books, TV series, movies, you would recommend to a future psychologist? Why?

Book: Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell.  In this book the well-educated Orwell finds himself truly down-and-out, and thus the beauty of the work:  a witty and insightful personal account of his experiences with the darker sides of life working in the underbelly of a Parisian kitchen and living as a homeless man on the streets of London.  Orwell’s keen, candid and at times foul observations about human behavior are priceless. 

Movie: Baraka is a visually stunning documentary film that takes you on a rather strenuous journey across the landscape of humanity:  who we are, what we’ve done, and what we are currently doing on our planet.  You see human behavior at its horrifying worst, and at its very best.  You feel the full range of human emotions, and the film rouses the same fundamental set of questions that we ask in the field of psychology.  Who are we? How are we similar?  How do we differ?  Why do we do what we do?  Why do we feel what we feel?  By understanding our behavior, can we change it for the better?

TV Show: Science-based television shows like CSI are typically exaggerations.  The producers take some new ideas in science and blow them up to epic proportions for our entertainment.  Interestingly, the show Lie to Me seems to have done just the opposite.  The protagonist uses psychological science to solve crimes by reading the subtle behaviors that give away other people are thinking and feeling.   If you like the show, you will love Psychology:   Really, I´m not lying…the science we have now is much more exciting and advanced than in this TV show! 

     Any other recommendation for freshmen students?

I think that it is important to remember that an undergrad degree is not just about learning the content of your field; it’s also about learning and developing skills in how to think.   What does that involve?  First, it involves becoming adept at solving problems: defining the problem at hand, breaking it down into manageable pieces, thinking creatively about different ways to approach each piece, and then solving each one.   Second, it involves learning how to test and implement your ideas:  making vague ideas more concrete, figuring out ways to test whether your ideas are sound, putting together convincing presentations to sell others on your ideas, and devising a plan to turn your ideas into reality.    These are among the most critical skills you will develop as an undergraduate, and they are skills that you will take with you and use forever regardless of what career(s) you pursue.  You can develop these critical and creative thinking skills in any field, but I think that the field of Psychology is an exceptionally good place to do so. 


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