Tak uses decision science to develop solutions to social issues, particularly in public health. Using decision theories as instruments, he is developing a public education campaign on road safety, with particular attention to common misconceptions on the use of seatbelts and booster seats. 

Mariana Brussoni
Bogota DC
UBC Public Scholars Award
Research Description

My research focuses on the development of novel approaches to communicate risk in road safety. In particular, I seek to develop a novel way to counter a widespread misconception about seatbelts; a tendency to believe that seatbelts protect people inside vehicles by preventing them from being ejected out of the car. In reality, seatbelts reduce injury risk by redirecting crash forces to stronger parts of the body: the hips and chest. This misconception, although partially true, leads people to overestimate the protection afforded by seatbelts, particularly for children. This is one of the many reasons children are required to use special car seats. Using judgment and decision theory, I seek to better understand the nature of this misconception and to develop communication and education strategies to eliminate it.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

To me, being a public scholar means that I strive to develop scientific theories that: (1) advance our understanding of the principles that govern individual and collective behaviour; (2) explain the social phenomena we experience in public life (e.g., income and health inequality, threats to public health); (3) provide new solutions to real-life issues already identified and described; and (4) raise new questions or offer new ways to understand and solve real-life problems.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

I think PhD experiences should not need to be re-imagined to fit the goals of something like the Public Scholars Initiative. Valuable research should always has an impact on public; be it finding new planets similar to earth, understanding how life experiences changes which genes are “turned on,” or why people make choices that undermine their our health. Even if it is not evident from the beginning, the answers to these questions have fundamental impact of everyone’s lives. By bringing together scholars who agree on this point, anyone’s PhD experience can be re-imagined into something useful and more practical.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

In recent years, decision science has become increasingly appreciated and valuable for public policy, particularly in economic development and health. The governments of the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Canada, and even the World Bank, have put together teams of decision scientists to advise them in the development of policies to improve public good. To me, this the perfect opportunity to put my doctoral-level expertise in the service of these organizations. After all, I have been doing (somewhat anonymously) this for more than a decade.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My research involves the development of risk communication messages to correct misconceptions around seatbelts and vehicle safety for children. My partner, The Community against Preventable Injuries, will provide me with their expertise in the development of strategies to effectively deliver said message. Ultimately, my research intends to initiate a collective conversation that leads to a better understanding of the actual safety benefit of seatbelt and the risks of not using car safety seats.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

My research seeks to help reduce injuries to children riding in cars, which are the leading cause of death for Canadian children 1 to 14 years of age.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

For over 12 years, I travelled to areas besieged by conflict to lead, to carry out, and to evaluate social and economic development programs; I was a mediator and conflict resolution advisor; and I worked in social security, in road safety, and in violence prevention. When the issues I faced became so complex that current scientific knowledge provided limited solutions, I decided it was time for me to seek answers on my own.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

My connection to UBC goes back many years. In my many interactions with faculty, graduate students and alumni, I always felt a special connection. We shared the same interest in social issues, as well as values and views around learning and socially relevant scientific progress. Consequently, when I decided to pursue graduate studies, UBC was a natural choice for me.


My research involves the development of risk communication messages to correct misconceptions around seatbelts and vehicle safety for children.