by Sasha Tremeto
Today’s Q&A is with Marty Kledelman, professor of psychology at Southwest State and author of the forthcoming book Indecision (Steam Press).
Q. For years, you’ve studied which part of the brain is involved in decision making, and how. Can you tell me more about how those studies developed?
A. Well, at first I thought we’d go about it through functional magnetic-resonance imaging of the frontal cortex and the parietal cortex, but I wasn’t sure that was the best route to take and was therefore not terribly aggressive about procuring grant support. Then I considered videoing and timing the verbal and facial changes among people in a controlled clinical setting as they responded to a variety of scenarios. But that had some methodological problems and I never really pinned down which lab environment would work best for it, whether the subjects should read, or be told about, or see the scenarios they’d be reacting to, or exactly what the nature of those scenarios would be. I considered tracking other measures during the decision process, like body temperature, respiratory pace, and pulse. But those indicators seemed a tad superficial. My postdocs and I, in collaboration with the political science department here, had a side project analyzing some data involving lawmakers’ reactions to crises. That, however, didn’t yield very conclusive results, and, of course, there’s considerable selection bias in that kind of investigation that makes the material a bit suspect. And after all, one lawmaker’s crisis is another’s opportunity. Then there are the differences between lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels, and related questions about responsibility and legitimacy and agency that, you know, shade the results in a not too helpful way. After a while, my colleagues on that project sort of peeled off and I thought I might want to go in another direction.
Q. So what kind of study did you eventually go with?
A. None of our ideas came to full fruition. We had some qualms not just about their empirical validity, but also about the robustness of our resources.
Q. I see. Then your book is based on a survey of research by others?
A. Over several years, my team and I —well mostly me, because, without a surefire research agenda I was slow in formalizing the team and there was quite a bit of turnover—looked at the relevant data. Because I hadn’t precisely framed the problem, I read broadly.
Q. What kinds of materials did you look at?
A. I examined studies of returning veterans, read deeply into not just the psychology literature, but some historiography, sociology, and behavioral economics as well. Those, in turn, led me to more popular histories, as well as novels, news magazines, and accounts of business transactions, sporting events, and entertainment. Then I started viewing some related film and video items.
Q. That does sound broad. How did you find the time for all that?
A. I did a lot of this on my own time. By that point, you see—we don’t really need to get too far into this, but—my wife and children were no longer in the same home as myself. Then there was a sabbatical, followed by a fairly long-term health leave. I kept up my research throughout.
Q. How did you ultimately narrow down the parameters of that research?
A. I haven’t yet, actually, because I really don’t want to rule out any theoretical routes into the topic.
Q. Tell me about the organization of your book.
A. I have a lot of different ideas about that. There are so many provocative approaches one could take with an important and multifaceted topic like this.
Q. Well, which have you tried so far? What’s your book say? What is it about?
A. That really depends which version you’re looking at.
Q. What about the version the publisher accepted?
A. It’s more a verbal contract at this point, based on a proposal drafted and forwarded to them by my agent.
Q. Who’s your agent?
A. That wouldn’t shed much light, really, because that agent and I are no longer working together. There are several others in the running.
Q. … I’m afraid we’re out of time, but I really appreciate your talking with me.
A. My pleasure. We could meet again if you’d like.
Q. I really have to go now. Good luck with your work.
A. Thanks! And of course, I understand. It’s just that I have some thoughts you might be interested about a follow-up monograph. Well, maybe a monograph, or maybe sort of a monograph-trade hybrid. Or maybe something on the Web, with a lot of links and portals and plug-ins. There are a lot of ways it could go. Traditional text is great, but new media offer so many possibilities. It’s sort of overwhelming, isn’t it! But of course, very exciting!
A. Sure you don’t want to stay for dinner? Or we could go out somewhere if you’d prefer. I really like Asian, though Italian and French are great too. Or maybe you’re vegetarian? I’m vegetarian. Or rather I have been at various points in my life. On one hand, there are a lot of moral reasons to avoid meat. On the other, maybe carnivorous consumption is just a basic part of our nature. It really comes down to what you think man is. But then maybe man isn’t the important entity in that equation, if you know what I mean.
A. Hmm. Guess I’ll go too. … Of course, she might come back for follow-up questions or something, so maybe I should stay. But then, she’d probably call, I guess, or email. … Nah, I’ll go. … Maybe in a few minutes I’ll go. Wonder what’s on TV.