How do we assess “importance” in our lives? An example from scientists’ research choices

This 2015 Virginia study found that scientists preferred research projects that had the potential to make:

“Deeper vs. broader contributions.

The scientists surveyed considered a hypothetical broader study, compared with an otherwise-comparable deeper study, to be riskier, a less-significant opportunity, and of lower potential importance.”

What were underlying motivations for subject scientists to become the Big Frogs in tiny puddles?

For example, if scientists recognized that there was an opportunity to positively influence a great number of human lives with a “broader” study, such as the hunger research proposed in Do the impacts of early experiences of hunger affect our behavior, thoughts, and feelings today? why would they prefer a “deeper” study such as starving fruit flies?

These researchers said that “scientists’ personal dispositions” accounted for this finding. I agree, but not for any of the specific reasons they stated.

Subjects’ “lower potential importance” judgments were key, and bear closer examination. The study’s supplementary material showed this consideration was made on a sliding scale in response to a question:

“Would you describe Project A (B) as potentially very important?”

The “lower potential importance” finding was an accumulation of each scientist’s personal judgment of a project described as:

“A broad project that spans several topical domains, including at least one that coincides with your area(s) of expertise and interest.

compared with:

“A focused and specialized project that fits your particular interests and leverages your deep expertise in a specific area.”

Weren’t personal judgments of the hypothetical project’s “potentially very important” aspect how each scientist predicted the project would make them feel important?

Given vague project descriptions in above quotations, I assert that their judgments’ contexts were “important to me” rather than “important to science” or “important to society” or important to some other context.

A relevant hypothesis of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy that applies to the “lower potential importance” finding is: the need to feel important is a defense against feeling unimportant due to early experiences of neglect.

Using principles referenced in the hunger post, the need to feel important is:

  1. A derivative need;
  2. A substitute for an unfulfilled need; and
  3. Caused by the impact of an early unmet need.

A corollary is that if an infant didn’t have early experiences of neglect, and their early needs were met, they likely wouldn’t develop derivative needs such as the need to feel important as they progressed through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Are people motivated to act like the scientists who were subjects of this study? Do we make career and personal choices based on whether or not our work and other people make us feel important?

See my Welcome page and Scientific evidence page for further elaborations of this topic. “Different personal propensities among scientists relate to deeper vs. broader knowledge contributions”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.