Sean Laraway

Sean Laraway

Professor, Psychology

What research questions currently preoccupy you?

I’m interested in events that motivate instrumental behavior in a variety of contexts. Currently, I’m researching motivation in the areas of online consumer behavior and the behavior of sports fans. I’m also working to expand my expertise and knowledge of human factors in transportation (e.g. aviation), online behavior, and other domains.

What personal factors contributed to your research?

I’ve been working on the topic of motivation since graduate school in the early 2000s due to the influence of my graduate advisors at Western Michigan University (Jack Michael and Alan Poling). I see motivation as an important influence on a lot of interesting and socially important behavior. I’m a regular online consumer (of products and information) and an avid (Detroit) sports fan, so I’m interested in variables that influence our interactions in these areas and what motivates us to act in certain ways therein, such as cheering for a sports team we don’t normally care about, avoiding news about our team when it loses, and choosing to use certain web sites over others, etc. With respect to human factors, I work with many talented human factors researchers at SJSU and NASA Ames Research Center, and I’d like to be able to better understand their work to improve my collaborations with them.

What has been most challenging in your RSCA?

I face two main challenges: balancing my administrative work at Ames with my research and keeping up with different disciplines to effectively contribute to interdisciplinary research.

How has your position at SJSU contributed to your RSCA?

Working with my graduate students has forced me to “find time” to engage in RSCA. Their passion, skills, and enthusiasm have motivated me to complete projects that I otherwise might have pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. I’ve been very lucky to work with many talented graduate students, and their research interests have driven a lot of my research at SJSU. I have also benefited from talented and eager undergraduate students, who have contributed to my research.

A hidden (RSCA) talent:

I don’t know if it’s hidden, but I’m a decent editor, methodologist, and applied data analyst.

One book that changed your life (or RSCA) and why:

Walden Two by B.F. Skinner. Although not the greatest piece of literature, its central idea that we can use behavioral science to improve the human condition inspired me to pursue a career in psychology. I like the notion that the appropriate application of psychological knowledge can and should have practical benefits to society. This has also fueled my interest in the field of human factors, which aims to improve the human condition.

A website/journal/newspaper (in your field?) you follow without fail:

I read several online news sources daily to keep up with current events. For human factors research, I read Human Factors and Ergonomics in Design, among others. For NHL and Detroit Red Wings hockey news, I read Kukla’s Korner. For technology news, I read Wired and, among others. I follow Edward Tufte on Twitter to get insights into design, data visualization, etc.

Advice you’d give to newer faculty or students:

If your field uses quantitative methods, then become as familiar and skilled with those methods as possible. Learn as much about research methodology as possible. Learn to recognize and avoid/mitigate threats to various forms of validity (e.g., internal, construct) and cognitive biases. Learn to compute, interpret, and report effect size measures. Don’t just report p-values. Be sure to put your results in the context of the relevant research literature and explain what they mean to your audience as clearly and simply as possible. Focus on meaningful differences/relationships rather than only on statistically significant, but perhaps trivial or unimportant, ones. Find ways of making your research relevant to multiple audiences, if possible. Be sure to write correctly and clearly; don’t be afraid to find an editor, if necessary. Seek funding for your research, if possible; it’s easier to do research if you can afford to do it!

RSCA accomplishments

Mercer, J., Espinosa, S. H., Bienert, N., & Laraway, S. (2016, September). Differing air traffic controller responses to similar trajectory prediction errors: An interrupted time-series analysis of controller behavior. In Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC), 2016 IEEE/AIAA 35th (pp. 1–8). IEEE.

Stewart, M., Laraway, S., Jordan, K. P., & Feary, M. S. (2016). Simplified approach charts improve data retrieval performance. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 1555343416675556.

Laraway, S., Snycerski, S., Olson, R., Becker, B., Poling, A. (2014). The Motivating Operations Concept: Current status and critical response. The Psychological Record, 64, 601–623.