Ward Edwards: Founder of Behavioral Decision Theory
In 1954 and 1961 Ward Edwards published two seminal articles that created behavioral decision research as a new field in psychology (Edwards, 1954, 1961). The topics of this research include how people make decisions and how these decisions can be improved with tools and training. In his 1954 Psychological Review article (Edwards, 1954) he introduced the expected utility model to psychologists and he asked if people actually behave this way, balancing the desirability of an outcome against its chance of occurring, as economists had assumed. That paper identified the issues, but it wasn’t until Ward’s 1961 Annual Review of Psychology paper (Edwards, 1961) that we see in the title, “Behavioral Decision Theory,” the formal beginnings of the new field. In just six years, 139 papers relevant to the discipline had appeared, and subsequent exponential growth prevented any comprehensive tracking of research.
In the mid-1960s, Ward and Art Melton joined forces with Paul Fitts, considered by many to be the “father of engineering psychology,” and Bill Hays, author of the thoughtful and accessible Statistics for Psychologists, to form the Human Performance Center. The mixture of theoretical and applied work conducted by the Center attracted graduate students and post-docs, including Daniel Kahneman, thereby bringing together the team of Kahneman and Tversky.