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Regular version of the site

To Combine Experiment With Intervention And Field Studies

Peter Schmidt, Professor of sociology at the University of Giessen and a renowned expert in social psychology, who has become one of the heads of the HSE International Laboratory for Socio-Cultural Studies, told us about the plans and key research topics of the laboratory.

— Professor Schmidt, when and how did you start working with the Higher School of Economics?

— I was introduced to my Russian colleagues by Shalom Schwartz, Professor of Psychology at the University of Jerusalem, who is now Academic Supervisor of the HSE International Laboratory for Socio-Cultural Studies. We have been collaborating for a long time on the development of tools for the measurement of human values  and have carried out joint research related to the influence of these values on human behavior and relationships. So, my contacts with Nadezhda Lebedeva, the Laboratory Head, at first were not direct, but in October last year we met in person and now jointly head the laboratory.

— In your view, what are the key tasks of the new department?

— The staff of the laboratory is involved in the systematic study of the role of cultural values in socio-economic behavior and production of innovations. The economic success of modern society depends on the level of its modernization, and hence it is necessary to understand why some people seek to invent something new, while others don’t, and what are the motivations of both the former and the latter. In our work we try to combine methods which are rarely used together – laboratory experiments, field studies and so-called intervention studies. To understand whether our conclusions and ideas are correct, it is important not to lock ourselves away within the walls of the laboratory, but to analyze the research results in practice. We shall work in collaboration with various organizations and institutions, which seek to develop and implement innovations and are ready to apply our knowledge and methods in their teams. It is similar to the situation in medicine – to fight diseases, not only tested methods are used, but also a permanent search for more effective means of treatment – and just like this, we are guided by the necessity to constantly search for some new methods of analysing human behavior and its motivations.

— In this case, what is the difference between experimental methods and the intervention method?

— An experiment is carried out under laboratory conditions, and usually students or volunteers take part in it. The conditions of an experiment are created artificially, and usually they are far removed from real situations taking place in society. That’s why the knowledge which is received as a result of a laboratory experiment cannot be fully or directly transferred to real situations. I shall give another example from medicine: not all the results of research are implemented in medical practice. Intervention methods let us trial our developments in real life conditions of a real team, and allow us to take into account all the circumstances of everyday processes.

— Can you tell us something about the presentation you made on innovations in cross-cultural studies at theXII International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development?

— Yes, my presentation was dedicated to the key methods of synthesis and integration of new knowledge and discoveries in modern science. I told the conference participants about meta-analysis – a technique which is often used in medical psychology and which summarizes and analyzes quantitative indicators from various studies and helps to reveal the real effect from the combination and interaction of all known factors and assists in eliminating the uncertainty of research conclusions. The creative efforts of people in any innovative process are decreased when there are doubts and uncertainties in the team, and hence it is very important to develop a mechanism of overcoming uncertainty and/or a mechanism of selecting people who are able to overcome their own doubts.

— Can we clarify exactly about what innovations are we talking about? In what field?

— In principle, it doesn’t matter.  We are interested in the process of innovations in any area of human activity – in telecommunications, social life, the creation of new organizational forms, computer technologies or technical developments. The modernization mechanisms in any area are very similar, and our laboratory aims to reveal general principles and knowledge which can be used by society as a whole, including the field of education.

— What can you tell us about the laboratory staff?

— The staff of the laboratory are very well prepared for international research work. My Russian colleagues are highly qualified and experienced in the study of cultural values, economic behavior and innovative processes in Russia. In addition to that, Nadezhda Lebedeva is a perfect organizer. Shalom Schwartz, Academic Supervisor of the laboratory, is a brilliant expert in the values theory. I have also for many years been involved in the studies of values and rational choice in behavior studies. In addition to that, I have experience of building complex models of behavior considering various influences – conditional and independent – and the experience of preparation and implementation of research based on interventions. This means that we perfectly complement each other as experts and are ready to solve tasks of any level of difficulty. We shall also attract master’s and postgraduate students to work in the laboratory, and we’re looking not only for psychologists and sociologists, but also economists.

As far as I see, in recent years in the world there has been a clear trend towards convergence and joint interdisciplinary studies between behavioral psychologists, managers and economists who are united not only by their interest in solving similar professional tasks, but also by the use of similar explanatory models in the study of certain processes.

— What are the laboratory’s immediate plans?

— First of all, we would like to develop a complex model of interrelation between the values and innovative processes based on the data which has already been collected, and study the changes of Russian values (including regional) compared with the European ones over the last 7 or 8 years. As far as I understand, some Russian researchers from different regions have expressed their interest and willingness to participate in our projects and supply the field study data necessary for our research.

In addition to research work, in June I am planning to participate in the work of the HSE Summer School on ‘Values and Socio-Economic Behavior: Cross-Cultural Measurements and Explanatory Models’, and in October I am planning to read a lecture course on structural modeling and multivariant analysis for students of the HSE Faculty of Psychology.

I am planning to come to Moscow at least five times a year, and for the rest of the time to be in contact with the laboratory staff by all available means – e-mail, phone and Skype. I think that we will be able to prepare a number of joint presentations on our projects for some large international conferences.

Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service

Photo by Nikita Benzoruk

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