University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Academic Year 2009-10
Conceptual Analysis of Traits
Natalie Gold is a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Between getting her D.Phil from Oxford and joining the philosophy department at Edinburgh, she held postdoctoral fellowships at Duke University and at the Probability, Philosophy and Modeling group based at the University of Konstanz.
Natalie studies how the way that people frame their choices influences their decision making, and what this implies for theories of rational choice. Decision theory implicitly assumes that agents see all possible descriptions of the world, or that the agent’s view is the same as the theorist’s. But, in reality, we are cognitively constrained creatures, with limited capacity to attend to information. Our choices are bounded by the concepts that we use in framing our decisions. Further, changing the way that an agent frames a decision-problem can change the way she chooses. Since framing affects decision-making, what concepts people use and how they change is an important and under-researched aspect of explanations of behavior. How we should incorporate the concept-sensitivity of decisions into our descriptive and normative theories, and the questions that opens up for philosophers and social scientists, are the foundational issues of Natalie's research.
If we regard framing as a fundamental aspect of decision-making rather than a bias that explains deviations from rationality, then new normative issues arise. Most obviously, incorporating framing will impact on theories of rationality. But Natalie argues that, in addition, accommodating framing will affect philosophical debates such as those surrounding character traits and those involving shared valuations. Framing effects also raise methodological concerns in areas where reactions to hypothetical scenarios are used to test the plausibility of theories. Ethics is one such area, and Natalie has an AHRC Research Grant to investigate "Framing Effects in Ethical Dilemmas".
Natalie also works on group agency and collective intentions. In particular she is interested in how these relate to team reasoning, a mode of reasoning used by individuals as members of teams. She exercises these capacities by working with a number of co-authors. This research is also connected to her larger project because one theory is that an agent team reasons when she is in a “we-frame”.
Whilst in Pittsburgh, Natalie will use her framework to analyze character traits. She will explore how it can help us to understand experimental results from social psychology, and investigate how framing (via something like an individual propensity to frame the world in particular ways) could be a part of a theory of character traits.
All these themes will be brought together in a monograph Natalie is writing, provisionally entitled Frames and Decisions.