Campus News in Brief

Researcher analyzes enjoyment

A new study by a Carnegie Mellon social psychologist is leading scientists to question the benefit of following your gut.

The psychologist, Carey Morewedge, along with Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, have found that an individual’s rush to predict his or her own enjoyment in expected situations may lead to unhappiness. In other words, the research suggests that happiness comes not in the most expected occasions, but rather in those events where it is difficult to picture self-enjoyment.

Gilbert suggested that just as much enjoyment can be gained out of a predictably boring study group as can be attained from a predictably fun trip to the beach. Once a person gets involved in a study group and exchanges stories with classmates, the experience captures his attention and the trip to the beach falls to the back of his mind, the leaving the possible enjoyment of that event far in the past.

The idea is summed up in Gilbert’s concept of “attentional collapse,” which suggests that when an individual is in the midst of an engaging experience, his or her imagination tunes into the moment, making any past notions quickly evaporate.

Gilbert has researched the concept of happiness before. In 2006, he wrote a book, Stumbling on Happiness, in which he discussed his finding that when faced with an irrevocable decision, people are happier with the outcome than when they have the opportunity to change their minds.
His most recent research was featured in the Feb. 19 issue of Time magazine.

Professor wins early career honor

Carnegie Mellon’s Jeremy J. Michalek became the sixth assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s department of mechanical engineering to obtain the Faculty Early Career Development Award.

One of the National Science Foundation’s most celebrated distinctions, the award recognizes scholars who show promise of developing into prominent academic leaders of the 21st century.
Michalek will invest his prize, the five-year, $400,000 grant, in analyzing how an aspect of public policy such as fuel-economy standards might decide which kind of more efficient vehicles are built in the future and how consumers might react.

In his study, Michalek aims to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of potential new technologies. He hopes to be able to predict consumers’ choices and the reactions of profit-seeking automakers in the regulated marketplace.

His research comes at an extremely relevant time, with a $1 per gallon price jump observed during each of the last two springs. Furthermore, recent trends predict this year’s average price to rise to a record $3.50 a gallon or more by June, according to the Carnegie Mellon website.

The U.S. government has been pressuring the auto industry to study alternatives to fossil fuels for years, recently passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, aimed at stopping harmful emissions and further developing renewable fuels.