Economics and the Science of Decision-making

Diana Funez

Student Profile: Tegan Keigher, AB’19 (Economics/Psychology, expected)

Since she was in high school, Tegan Keigher knew that she was interested in Psychology, but she didn’t know what future she should strive for in college. She came in during her teacher’s lunch hour to ask for advice, but—to her great surprise—her ultimate choice was helped by an Economics teacher that happened to share the same lunch hour. “I was talking to my teacher about jobs in Psychology and he came over and joined the conversation,” says Keigher. “He started talking about Behavioral Economics.”


Now a rising third year, Keigher draws connections between Psychology and Economics in how they can both be applicable to everyday situations. “Psychology is very interesting because it is applicable to everyday life,” she says. “The things you learn you are then able to use to improve personal aspects of your life, from relationships with other people to the way you study for tests.” Economics can also be as applicable to business situations and academic research, she says, besides finding connections between the two fields, she also works to encounter them in the real world.


Once she had started her first year, Keigher began to reach out into different areas of Psychology and Economics to get exposure into other topics that interested her. She enjoyed taking Cognitive Psychology (PSYC 20400) with Assistant Professor Marc Berman of the Psychology Department. “It was super applicable to everyday life as a student,” she says. “We talked a lot about memory and learning.” Taking Psychological Research Methods (PSYC 20200) with Senior Lecturer Anne Henley, also of the Psychology Department, helped her have a basis when she started looking for a research positon on campus.


In Economics, Keigher particularly enjoyed the 20100 course with Assistant Professor Richard Van Weelden of the Economics Department. “I liked his class because he used examples from a variety of different subject areas and included a unit on game theory which I though was very fun,” she says.


Keigher also looked beyond the classroom to learn about her majors. Over the school year, she put her research skills to work in the Infant Learning and Development Lab led by Amanda Woodward, the William S. Gray Professor of Psychology and Interim Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences. Working mainly with two-year-old children, Keigher contributed to an upcoming paper on how teaching children how to use a toy will impact their ability to use said toy. 


Doing hands-on research gave Keigher a different perspective into how modern practices have evolved from what she read about in class. “It felt like the studies we talked about in my high school Psychology class had happened a long time ago and we talked about how they were unethical,” says Keigher. She takes as an example the 1920s experiment with Baby Albert, a child who was conditioned to fear white rats and who never fully recovered from his generalized fear of white fuzzy objects. Through taking a part in the Infant Lab here at the University, Keigher saw how her work was much more careful. “Coming here and through my experience I learned about the modern research that is going on—especially since getting involved in it—and how it does adhere to ethical standards,” she says.


Keigher also seeks real-world experience apart from research. Over the last few summers, she has worked for United Airlines in data analytics and in creating marketing models. On campus, she is involved in the board for PsiChi, a Psychology club. “We have quarterly professor talks where there’s an opportunity for a professor to come speak over dinner and quarterly movie talks where we show a movie and discuss afterwards,” she says.


This year, Keigher hopes to find more opportunities for applications in her courses.  She is excited to take the Economics of Crime with William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor Steve Levitt (ECON 28700) of the Economics Department and hopes to take The Psychology of Decision Making (PSYC 25101) with Professor Boaz Keysar of the Psychology Department. Though she has not decided what her plans will be after graduation, she is considering to one day—though not now—pursue a doctorate in Psychology.


Through the courses that she has taken and through what she has learned outside of the classroom, Keigher continues to draw connections between and applications for her studies. “Economics—at its core—is basically the science of decision-making,” she says, “and Psychology is the study of human behavior. For me, the Social Sciences are the way that people interact and all facets [of those interactions].”