Published: 10.12.12

Out now: How We Decide

The latest issue of Globe, the magazine of ETH Zurich and ETH Zurich Alumni, which was published in December, examines the issue of how we make decisions in complex systems. Globe is also available as an iPad app in German and English.

Martina Märki

A child is seriously ill. Which factors do parents base their decisions regarding the measures to be taken on? Together with colleagues from the USA, ETH-Zurich researcher Ryan Murphy, a professor of decision theory, conducted a study to determine how the wording of the progress of a disease influences decisions. The results show that parents are less willing to take risks in the treatment if doctors phrase the prognosis positively; in other words, speak of survival chances. Conversely, they are more prepared to take risks if mention is made of mortality rates. On the whole, people evidently weight the threat of loss much more heavily than the prospect of gain – and respond accordingly in terms of their willingness to take more risks. This is also demonstrated by lab tests which researchers from ETH Zurich conduct in the specially designed Decision Science Laboratory – all featured in the current issue of the ETH-Zurich magazine Globe.

Many areas in which we make decisions are becoming increasingly complex. The mechanisms in complex systems, however, are difficult to predict. The natural, engineering and social sciences at ETH Zurich have been researching such systems by interacting with, modelling or recreating them. In the current issue of Globe, a number of articles examine how decisions come about within complex systems. They are examples we are all familiar with: when do we behave in an environmentally friendly way? What influences our choice of transport or how we act on the financial market?

Globe also accompanies daring researchers on the Matterhorn, who have been investigating what goes on beneath the cracked skin of the Swiss landmark in an unprecedented measuring campaign spanning several years. And ETH Zurich’s new rector Lino Guzzella talks about the first 100 days in his new office and what drives him as a passionate university professor.


The magazine of ETH Zurich and ETH Zurich Alumni can be subscribed to as a German print edition. Globe is now also available as a free iPad app in German and English. The magazine can also be downloaded from the internet.

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