Psychologist and Behavioral Economist awarded MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grants’

This article was originally published on The Psych Report before it became part of the Behavioral Scientist in 2017.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and Colin Camerer, a behavioral economist at the California Institute of Technology, were two of the twenty-four MacArthur Fellowship recipients, announced yesterday by the MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Fellowship, commonly referred to as a ‘Genius Grant’, is awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

As MacArthur Fellows, Duckworth and Camerer will each receive a stipend of $625,000 over a period of five years. The Fellowship program is designed “to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations,” and places no restrictions on how recipients use their award. Notable past recipients from the behavioral sciences include Amos Tversky, Kay Redfield Jamison, Jennifer Richeson, and Sendhil Mullainathan.

Angela Duckworth

Duckworth’s research focuses on how individual qualities, specifically grit and self-control, influence educational achievement. Her research demonstrates that a person’s success is often better predicted by grittiness–that is, the propensity to stay with difficult tasks over a long period of time–rather than intellectual talent, as measured by an IQ test. This view of achievement based on grit and self-control is revolutionizing the way educators think about students’ pathways to success. On receiving the award Duckworth stated, “I hope this fellowship…draws attention to a worthy subject. I hope that it balances out the preoccupation with cognitive tests and IQ scores that seems to occupy much of consciousness in American schooling and shine light on things like effort, grit, [and] self-control.”

Colin Camerer

Camerer’s early research in Behavioral Economics focused on Prospect Theory and how people react to risk. Today, he utilizes neuroscience to better understand economic decision making. His current work examines the relationship between price bubbles, crashes, and human emotion. His research illustrates that specific emotions are linked to certain periods within a price bubble; people tend to experience euphoria and “irrational exuberance” as the bubble increases, and uncertainty and discomfort before it bursts. Camerer’s work using neuroscience to elucidate economic issues is shaping the field of  economics. As Camerer explains, “the idea of studying the brain as the area in which decisions are made is very radical within economics.”

Other recipients of this year’s MacArthur Fellowship include a paleobotanist, a choreographer, an organic chemist, a jazz pianist, an immigration lawyer, and a Medieval historian. To view the full list of recipients click here.

Links in this article were updated.

Disclosure: Angela Duckworth is a member of The Psych Report Advisory Board.