Dr. Downs is interested in how social influences affect decision-making, and how people can make better decisions by understanding the nature of these influences. Many people expect to contend with direct forms of influence, such as peer pressure, but far more ubiquitous and powerful are indirect influences. These include normative group influences (doing what is expected of you according to your group status or group norms), expectancy effects (behaving in accordance with what you expect, such as with alcohol use), and lack of awareness of decision opportunities. One goal of this type of research is to implement interventions aimed at helping people make better decisions in the face of often unseen social influences.
In other work, Dr. Downs is exploring how technology can accentuate daily risks, and how it can be used to facilitate decision making, especially in realms where available information is too complex to be used intuitively. Both of these lines of work focus on how people interpret information within different contexts, and how expectations and knowledge of the domain affects their interactions.
Downs JS, Bruine de Bruin W, Fischhoff B. Parents' vaccination comprehension and decisions. Vaccine. 2008; 26:1595-1607.
Downs JS, Holbrook MB, Cranor LF. Behavioral response to phishing risk. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series. 2007; 269: 37-44
Downs JS, Bruine de Bruin W, Fischhoff B, Hesse B, Maibach E. How people think about cancer: A mental models approach. In O'Hair D (Ed.) Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication, New York, NY: Taylor & Francis ebook; 2009.
Downs JS, Holbrook MB, Cranor LF. Decision strategies and susceptibility to phishing. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series. 2006; 149: 79-90.