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Professor Ben Newell

9385 1606




I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK, and following a 2 year period teaching English in Japan, took up a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for my PhD in cognitive psychology at the University of New South Wales. On completing my PhD I spent 3 years in postdoctoral positions at University College London, and Uppsala University in Sweden. I returned to UNSW in 2004 as a Lecturer and am now Professor and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Psychology.I have broad research interests in Cognitive Psychology, and specialize in work on judgment and decision making and category learning.


  • PhD in Cognitive Psychology (UNSW, 2001)
  • BSc (Hons) in Psychology (University of Nottingham, 1995)




My Research Goals

  • Use principles of psychology to bring rigorous approaches to pressing societal problems
  • Understand and Improve Human Judgment and Decision Making
  • Characterise human category learning
  • Delineate the roles of conscious and unconscious processes in higher level cognition

My Research in Detail

Judgment & Decision Making

I am interested in a range of topics broadly construed under the banner of judgment and decision making. One strand of research examines cognitive models of multi-attribute judgment and heuristic decision making. We investigate, experimentally, how people use multiple pieces of information when making decisions (e.g., buying a car, a house, choosing a partner) – and ask to what extent people are aware of these processes (see Newell & Shanks, 2014 for a recent overview). The special issue of Judgment and Decision Making co-edited with Arndt Bröder details some of our earlier work on these topics and provides an overview of the field. One current focus (in work with Michael Lee and Don van Ravenzwaaij) is on the application of evidence-accumulation models to multi-attribute judgment (e.g., Newell & Lee, 2011), and the development of hierarchical Bayesian methods for examining heuristic judgment (e.g., Lee & Newell, 2011; van Ravenzwaaij et al., 2014).

A second strand of research focuses on choice under risk and uncertainty. We have examined a variety of topics such as the differences between experience and description based choice (e.g., Camilleri & Newell, 2011; 2013 ; see also a guest-edited (with Tim Rakow) special issue of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making on this topic); reasons underlying people's tendency to probability match (e.g., Newell & Rakow, 2007; Newell et al., 2013) and how this tendency is affected by competition (with current PhD student Christin Schulze - see Schulze et al., 2013). I am also examining (with PhD student Sule Guney) factors underlying ambiguity aversion (e.g. Guney & Newell, 2011). A further current project (with Brett Hayes and postdoc Guy Hawkins) is examining the role of experience sampling in improving judgment and reasoning under uncertainty.

A third strand has begun to investigate applications of judgment and decision making research to pressing societal problems such as climate change and pension planning. The paper by Newell & Pitman (2010) has more information on the climate change research. The project currently involves PhD students Ash Luckman and Hui Chai, Post-Doc Rachel McDonald as well collaborations with Stephan Lewandowsky, Marilynn Brewer and Brett Hayes. The pension project involves Andreas Ortmann and other colleagues at the Australian School of Business and is jointly funded by the pension provider Unisuper. I am also involved in work with Kristy Martire examining lay understanding of statistical and forensic evidence in legal settings.

Category Learning & Induction

I have two current strands of research related to understanding how we learn to categorize and make inductions. The first strand examines the popular notion that category learning (e.g., discriminating a Shiraz from a Cabernet) can be explained through the operation of distinct ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ systems. In work initiated with David Shanks and David Lagnado we have investigated probabilistic categorization tasks in an attempt to find evidence for the operation of such separate systems. In a similar vein, work with John Dunn and Mike Kalish, is attempting to go beyond the ‘systems’ debate by utilizing a technique known as state-trace analysis to uncover the inherent dimensionality of category learning (see Newell et al., 2011).

A second strand (with Brett Hayes and Oren Griffiths) looks at induction, and specifically the mechanisms underlying induction on the basis of uncertain categorization judgments. This so-called ‘as-if’ reasoning (reasoning as-if a given judgment is true when there is uncertainty associated with it) appears to be prevalent. We are attempting to document some of the factors which affect the tendency to reason in this way (e.g. Griffiths et al., 2012).

Supervision Opportunities/Areas

A new project starting this year (2014) is examining decisions that involve elements of both risk and time delay. These kinds of choices are prevalent (e.g., climate change mitigation, superannuation choice) and yet detailed psychological process models are rare. The project is joint work with Don van Ravenzwaaij, a former postdoc in my lab, now at University of Newcastle. I am interested in prospective students/postdocs with interests in this project.

Advice for prospective students

The best thing about being an academic is having the opportunity to think about and solve problems that are inherently interesting, important and have the potential to influence society positively. Even better, you get to do this with other people who share your passion – research students! If any of the areas described above appeal to you, or you’d like more details then please contact me.




Courses I teach

PSYC3211 Cognitive Science

PSYC3011 Research and Applications of Psychology

PSYC7403 Experimental Psychology and Law

CLIM1001 Introduction to Climate Change

Professional affiliations and service positions

Deputy Head of the School of Psychology 

Associate Editor of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Fellow of the Psychonomic Society

Member of the Experimental Psychology Society

Member of the Cognitive Science Society

Member of the Society for Judgment & Decision Making

Academic Advisor to the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government




Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, 2012

UNSW Faculty of Science Teaching Award, 2010

Carrick Citation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning, 2007

Commonwealth Scholarship, 1998