Piers Fleming's Research Projects


I am interested in both behaviour and judgments under uncertainty. My work on judgment under uncertainty focuses on perceptions of risk and examines the contribution of personality, information and mental processes across different hazards. My research on behaviour under uncertainty focuses on choices in incentivised economic games where decisions have financial consequences. My theoretical interests include Individual Differences in risk judgment and behaviour as well as Contextual Effects. I am interested in the application of research to the areas of Climate Change, Digital Media, Health and Social Work.

See below (or click on the links) for more detail.

Individual Differences

Individuals are measurably different and these differences are predictably related to judgments and behaviour. This work seeks to examine what elements of personality might lead people to be risk-seeking or risk-averse and (separately but relatedly) who might believe an activity to be riskier or less risky. This avenue of research includes consideration of measures of impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and conformity. Ongoing work seeks to understand the interaction between context and personality - i.e. under what conditions will personality traits be expressed in risky behaviour/judgement. Previous work has included work on individual differences in economic games such as the dictator game, and public good games. I am also interested in how expertise affects decision-making and risk judgments. Expert decisions should be more consistent with objective measures of likelihood and severity but I am interested in the extent to which the process of judgment is similar between experts and non-experts. For example, are experts and non-experts equally likely to use effort-saving heuristic 'shortcuts'. I am also interested in how personality affects judgment and behaviour. My research has examined riskily cooperative behaviour and trait social desirability. High social desirability can predict greater altruism but also less cooperation under risk. Social desirability is also related to conforming to the social norm regarding risk perceptions.

Example papers:

Thanks to:

The Nuffield Foundation

Contextual Effects

Objectively minor changes in information presentation can have major effects on judgments and decisions. This research includes changes to phrasing, highlighting a different situation or considering the mood of the decision-maker. I am particularly interested in rational and emotive processes in risk perceptions and judgements which are influenced differentially by contextual information. My research has examined the effect of context on the use of heuristics.

Example papers:

Climate Change

I am interested in the social pressures of sustainable behaviour and risk judgment. This is an area in which there are many psychological reasons why non-experts find it difficult to believe expert assessments of climate change risks. I am particularly interested in the effect of social norms on risk perceptions of climate change. My PhD student Sandra Boegelein has completed her PhD on social dilemmas and sustainable behaviour.

Digital Media

I am interested in risk-taking and regulation across different types of digital media. Digital risks are often unclear or unknown. They are not visceral in the way that physical risks are. There is currently little research in this area despite the increasing importance of digital activity. One project evaluated an online social network for fostercare. I am also a member of the recently funded Centre for Creativity, Regulation, Enterprise and Technology (CREATe) and am working on a project investigating risk and decision making with digital media. See here for a scoping review in the area.

Example paper:

Thanks to:

Delivery Innovation Team (aka Digital Inclusion Team)

Research Councils UK


This work examines acceptance and risk perceptions of health technologies to inform risk communication. I am particularly interested in the influence of social desirability, expertise and heuristics on health risk perceptions.One project involved assessing the perceptions of stakeholders (public, experts, patients and donors) to the development and use of blood substitutes. It seems that socially undesirable hazards (in this case genetically modified products) were perceived as riskier by people who scored more highly on social desirability scales (which measure positive self-presentation). Heuristic use was also found to vary with expertise and context.

Example papers:

Social Work

This work is in collaboration with Chris Beckett at the University of East Anglia. Social Workers make crucial risk judgements as a key part of their job but there is little work that investigates how these judgments are made. The aim of this project is to examine social worker judgments in relation to the characteristics of the social worker and the case under consideration.

Example paper:

  • Fleming, P., and Biggart, L. and Beckett, C. (2014). Effects of Professional Experience on Child Maltreatment Risk Assessments: A Comparison of Students and Qualified Social Workers. British Journal of Social Work. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcu090.