Dr. Art Markman: Cognitive Psychologist & Author

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Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. The HDO program brings the humanities and the social behavioral sciences to people in business. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois.  Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University. Art's research explores thinking.  He has studied the way people form and use analogies, the mechanisms of decision making, the modes that allow people to form categories, and the influences of motivation on reasoning.  Art is also the executive editor of the journal Cognitive Science and is a former executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society. Art has always been interested in bringing insights from Cognitive Science to a broader audience. To that end, he writes blogs for many sites including Psychology Today and Fast Company.  He consults for companies interested in using Cognitive Science in their businesses.  Art is also on the scientific advisory boards for the Dr. Phil Show and the Dr. Oz Show. Along with Bob Duke, Art hosts the radio show Two Guys on Your Head for KUT Radio in Austin.  Two Guys on Your Head is available as a podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.  You can also follow the show on Twitter.  When he's not doing things related to Cognitive Science, Art can be found spending time with his family or playing sax in a blues band.

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What do I do best?

I am a cognitive psychologist. I study the way people think. I have spent my career doing research about reasoning, decision making, and motivation. I also believe in spreading that knowledge beyond the scientific community.  I think I have done a good job of reaching people through blogs, my radio show, and books.  

In addition, I have been the director of a new program at the University of Texas called the Human Dimensions of Organizations.  We have brought together faculty from across the liberal arts to help students to learn about people and to use that knowledge in the workplace.  Helping people to share a vision of how to use knowledge about the human condition to make workplaces more humane and productive is important to me.

What makes me the best version of myself?

I like to balance my need to think and understand with my need to do.  It is possible to err on one side or the other. Some people ponder life’s problems, but never try to fix the world, for fear that their idea won’t work.  Other people leap into trying things without spending enough time planning and getting other people on board.

I try to balance those motivations to understand the problems I want to solve well enough to feel confident that the things I want to try will work. At the same time, I have found that no matter how much I plan, the world is a great teacher.  Sooner rather than later, you have to try to implement your ideas rather than hoping to be prepared in advance for every contingency.

What are my aspirations?

I want to help people to remember how much value there is in knowledge and expertise.  We live in an era in which public discourse often denigrates science, scholarship, and knowledge.  People with expertise—particularly at the university level—need to engage in public discussions to demonstrate the value of the work we do.  

My Biggest Success?

I think my biggest success has been learning to communicate the technical material from the field of psychology to an audience of non-psychologists in a way that helps people to understand some of the complexity of the field, while at the same time learning something they can use.  

My Most Challenging Moment?

My biggest challenge was definitely raising kids.  Being a parent teaches you a lot about what you can control and what you can’t.  I didn’t always do it well, and I made a lot of mistakes.  But my kids are all in their 20s now, and they have grown up to be good people.  I’m happy for them and looking forward to watching their adventures.

My Motto?

One of my mottos is to work when I’m at work and not work when I’m not.  I love the work I do, and am lucky to have a lot of opportunities to do projects that are meaningful to me.  But, I also like to go home at the end of the day and relax.  I took up the saxophone 16 years ago, and love music.  I play in the horn section of a local ska band called Phineas Gage.  None of that would have been possible if I always brought my work home with me.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

There are a huge number of people who have had a significant impact on my life.  I have been surrounded by people I could learn from who were willing to share their experience and wisdom with me.  My graduate advisors Dedre Gentner and Doug Medin taught me a lot about how to be a good scientist and a good mentor to others.  Deans, administrators, and department chairs over the years have given me great advice about leadership in academia.  Colleagues from the business world have helped me to better understand how to take what I know and use it to help other people.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I am lucky enough to live in Austin, Texas, which is a great city to live in.  It has a vibrant and engaged intellectual community and businesses that want to engage and learn more.  It has a talented and generous music community that is a source of entertainment and refuge, but has also taught me a lot as someone learning an instrument.  It is a compassionate city—the largest no-kill animal city in the country.  There are lots of places to walk, hike, run, and bike.  

My Favorite Products/Objects?

My favorite objects are my saxophones.  I play alto and tenor and have some beautiful Keilwerth horns.  The sax is a beautiful object as well as having a wonderful sound.  I have a little studio in my house, and whenever I need a break from the world, I can surround myself with music.

My Current Passions?

I spend a lot of my time right now finding new ways to communicate what I know to more people.  For the past few years, my friend Bob Duke and I along with our intrepid producer Rebecca McInroy have been doing a radio show/podcast called Two Guys on Your Head.  It is a joy to be able to hang out with these wonderful people and find ways to share information with other people.  We sit around and have a fun conversation in the studio, and Rebecca finds the golden nuggets to share with other people.  As a result of the show, we have had a chance to meet lots of new people and to give talks in front of some great audiences.  It adds a lot of joy to my life to be able to do that.