I'm Suzanne Shu. I'm the John S. Dyson Professor in Marketing at the Dyson School in the Johnson College of Business at Cornell University.
The work that I tend to focus on the most--the big themes in my research--are topics like decision making for consumers, especially financial decisions in retirement. I also look at a lot of health decisions and how we can use behavioral science and what we know about consumer decision-making to help people make better decisions for their health and welfare. And then I also do look at some sustainability and environmental decisions.
So in a recent paper that we just published this past year, one of the topics that we looked at was how to help with sustainability issues, and to do that we built upon a theory that some co-authors and I had developed several years ago called psychological ownership. And the basic idea behind psychological ownership is that you can feel ownership, you can feel an attachment for things that aren't actually yours. And so you can imagine sometimes if you go into the store and you find a product that you really like before you've even checked out and purchased it, you start to feel that attachment to it and start to already feel like it's yours.
And we had looked at that in a lot of consumer decisions, but we wanted to bring that into the sustainability space as well, and so we especially focused on what are called public goods-- things like public parks or public lakes where people don't actually have an ownership interest other than just sort of being members of the community that use that space.
There's often a danger called the "tragedy of the commons," that those kinds of spaces can be overused or not well maintained because no one really has that feeling of ownership, so we did some interventions to encourage a feeling of psychological ownership for those spaces and then see how that affected picking up trash and volunteering and donating money and other kinds of measures that show that people are helping to take care of that space.
And we find that some very simple interventions --just a sign, or asking people to imagine the nickname for a lake, or to plot out their path in a park-- was enough to encourage that feeling of ownership and get people to make real behavioral changes and donate money to those spaces to help take better care of them.
My work is always motivated by very applied problems. I love thinking through how to use some of these ideas to solve real-world situations.
I'm a Cornell alum-- I went through the College of Engineering here, and the engineer in me just loves to solve problems! And so the work that I do does end up often having applications both in government and industry.
Some of the psychological ownership work that we've done, for example--we're starting to think about how that might be applied with the new sharing economy. If people start using ride-sharing like Uber instead of owning their own car, that obviously changes that ownership relationship between the consumer and the vehicle, and so what are the implications of that for a company like Uber or for car companies who perhaps have more of a leasing or renting or sharing model instead of an ownership model?
A lot of the work I do on financial decision making also has a lot of industry and policy implications. I work regularly with financial services organizations companies to help them think about their retirement offerings for their customers and I work closely with the government, with the Social Security Administration and the CFPB on understanding consumer decision-making related to disclosures for financial products, and helping people sort of make the best decision for themselves that they can.
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Professor Suzanne Shu discusses her research on decision-making for consumers, financial decisions in retirement, and psychological ownership.