Winston Sieck

Winston SieckWinston Sieck, PhD, is a cognitive psychologist working at the frontier of cognition and culture. He is the President and Principal Scientist at Global Cognition, a research and training development organization located in Yellow Springs, OH.

Sieck investigates three interrelated issues, along with their practical implications:

  • How general cognitive skills and specific subject area knowledge interact to produce competent, adaptable performance.
  • Ways in which cognitive customs, such as critical thinking and decision styles, differ across cultures.
  • How cross-cultural competence arises from cognitive skills and knowledge to help people quickly adapt and effectively engage others in any new cultural setting.

Winston Sieck received his BS in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992. While there, he taught study skills to undergraduates, and conducted experiments on how people learn from analogies with Jonathon Schooler at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC). Seeing the benefits of study skills and learning strategies first hand, he became interested in cognitive skills more broadly, including questions of what they are, and how they could be fostered to improve learning, thinking, and decision making across a wide variety of situations. He also became intrigued with Cultural Anthropology through his coursework, and wondered about the relation between cognition and culture. Fortunately, he found a graduate school program where he could pursue these seemingly disparate ideas further.

Dr. Winston Sieck completed his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Michigan in 2000. He picked up a masters in Statistics along the way, and participated in the Culture & Cognition program headed by Dick Nisbett. He worked on multinational collaborative projects led by Frank Yates to understand cultural differences in decision making among Japanese, Taiwanese, and Americans. An intriguing finding was that Taiwanese were more overconfident decision makers than Americans, whereas Japanese confidence tended to match accuracy pretty well. It’s intuitive to think of confidence as related to humility for these cultural groups. Yet, these studies showed that critical thinking skills and memory retrieval strategies to have a stronger influence on confidence and decision performance.

Sieck further experimented with the critical thinking and memory strategies exposed in the cultural research. In the process, he discovered several methods for enhancing decision making performance. After finishing his degree and working as a post-doctoral research fellow, Sieck felt a strong need to get out of the lab, and put some of the ideas into practice. He was planning to move into the education field when he received an email that opened another possibility.

Winston Sieck was recruited by the Naturalistic Decision Making researcher, Gary Klein, to lead new efforts on culture and cognition at Klein Associates in 2003. Sieck joined the Skilled Performance and Expertise group, which was the training development arm of the company. There, he began working on decision skills training projects, learning cognitive field research techniques in the process.

As a starting point for addressing cross-cultural competence from a cognitive perspective, Sieck studied how cultural experts make sense of puzzling intercultural interactions. He found that they use several of the same cognitive skills and strategies routinely employed by expert scientists. This result showed that these cognitive skills are quite general in their potential application. The research additionally confirmed that “cultural sensemaking” strategies are an important aspect of cross-cultural competence.

Sieck synthesized the decision skills training methods and cultural sensemaking strategies to create a cognitive approach to cultural training analysis, design, and development. He put the approach to the test by conducting cognitive-cultural field research on the ground in Lebanon and Afghanistan. Sieck and his team used the results to design and develop cognitive-cultural training for U. S. military personnel. An important innovation in the training approach was to address cognitive skills that can be usefully applied in any new culture, as well as cultural knowledge specific to the region of interest. The approach continues to influence cultural training and training development efforts across the military.

The next phase of his career began in 2011, when Winston Sieck founded Global Cognition. There, he has continued R&D efforts into the cognitive approach to culture, in collaboration with GC cofounder Louise Rasmussen. His efforts along this line include co-developing a comprehensive model of cross-cultural competence, and working out novel methods for assessing cultural sensemaking skills using automated text processing.

At GC, Winston Sieck has also been able to begin realizing his vision to provide online cognitive skills training to young adults. As a starting point, he released Sponge Learning Skills in 2013. Initial reactions to Sponge have been favorable, and further cognitive training development efforts are in progress.

Winston Sieck’s Curriculum Vitae

See all Head Smart articles by Winston Sieck

Selected Publications:

Sieck, W. R., Smith, J. L., & Rasmussen, L. J. (2013). Metacognitive strategies for making sense of cross-cultural encounters. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44, 1007-1023.

Yates, J. F., Ji, L.-J., Oka, T., Lee, J.-W., Shinotsuka, H., & Sieck, W. R.  (2010). Indecisiveness and culture: Incidence, values, and thoroughnessJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41, 428-444.

Sieck, W. R., Merkle, E. C., & Van Zandt, T. (2007).  Option fixation: A cognitive contributor to overconfidence.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103, 68-83.

Phillips, J. K., Klein, G., & Sieck, W. R.  (2004).  Expertise in judgment and decision making:  A case for training intuitive decision skills.  In D. J. Koehler & N. Harvey (Eds.),  Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making.

Sieck, W., & Yates, J. F. (1997).  Exposition effects on decision making:  Choice and confidence in choice.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 70, 207-219.  Briefly described in Head Smart article, Write to Decide.