Sahana Kalyani Quail, a Jesus College MSc student studying Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, has co-authored a paper on the replication crisis in psychology and the scientific impact of Prospect Theory and its widespread applications to policy and industry over the past 40 years. The paper has been published in the high-impact behavioural science journal Nature Human Behaviour.

In 2019, Sahana took part in an internship at the University of Cambridge, organized by the Junior Researcher Programme (JRP), which aims to provide research opportunities to students of psychology and similar disciplines. The internship brought together 32 students and early career researchers from 27 different institutions around the world and she was part of the UK researcher team.

Sahana Quail

In recent years, the popularity of behavioural science has been on the rise. This is in large part due to governments and businesses around the world recognising the potential for behavioural insights to improve many processes and outcomes that depend heavily on our choice as individuals. At the same time, replicability concerns in psychology, and behavioural sciences in general, gave rise to large-scale replication efforts investigating many conclusions based on well-established theories.

The new paper, titled Replicating patterns of prospect theory for decision under risk, tested the replicability of findings from one of the most cited and influential papers in this field: Kahneman and Tversky’s 1979 Prospect Theory paper. Prospect Theory describes how people make choices when faced with risky decisions and how those choices are not always consistent with what we consider ‘rational’. This work was so influential and impactful that it earned Daniel Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 and has only grown in influence since.

The replication study built on an extensive, cross-national sample – overall, 4,000 people in 19 countries were recruited - and the study material covered 13 languages. Led by Dr Kai Ruggeri from Columbia University, Sahana and her collaborators found that response patterns for decision-making under risk identified in the original paper, although somewhat smaller in size, still hold true today across multiple countries. For instance, we take more risks to avoid losses and fewer risks when we’re faced with a choice framed as a potential gain. In other words, not only have these patterns replicated, but it seems they are also generalisable around the world.

Sahana says, “Collaborating with many other researchers, we were able to produce high quality research which shows that the theory does replicate now as it did in 1979. With participants from across the globe, we also show how this theory applies cross-culturally, contributing a valuable research addition to the field.” 

As well as the excitement of publishing in Nature Human Behaviour, the opportunity to take part in the JRP internship has benefitted her hugely;

“My experience participating in the JRP gave me an invaluable opportunity as an early-career researcher to develop my professional and scientific skills in all stages of the research process.”

The full paper is available to read here.