Emily Balcetis, Arts & Science Associate Professor of Psychology, was chosen to represent the National Science Foundation's (NSF) behavioral science unit at the U.S. Senate. She addressed the topic "Strengthening American Infrastructure," emphasizing strategies to enhance national cybersecurity. A leader in the study of behavioral and motivational psychology, Balcetis' most recent research uses eye-tracking data to identify the human behaviors that most often lead to hackers' success. As Balcetis explained in her opening statement on July 19, "the challenging part of safeguarding critical infrastructures is not a lack of sophisticated technology. It is people. Every American and the decisions we all make stand as one of the most critical elements in infrastructure safety."
Balcetis' statement continued, "people have developed cognitive biases that are advantageous in many contexts. But those same biases can be leveraged by attackers to manipulate us into engaging in risky behaviors that hackers can take advantage of." Drawing on her research into cybersecurity and successful hacking attempts, Balcetis outlined the ways her research can address and prevent cyberthreats to benefit individuals and organizations across the country.
Speaking alongside her research collaborator and fellow NYU professor Quanyan Zhu, Balcetis showcased the positive impact of her NSF-funded research. Outlined in a July 2022 publication, Balcetis proposed that technology using real-time visual aids could decrease how often humans fall for phishing attempts. The goal of this research is "to create human-aware technology solutions that account for people’s inherent cognitive vulnerabilities."
Balcetis credits the Arts & Science Emerging Leaders Academy (ASELA) with preparing her for this Senate briefing, saying "I’m excited and proud to represent NYU and grateful for the year of leadership training ASELA offered to prepare me for this opportunity." The year-long ASELA program selects 12 A&S professors per year, teaching leadership and community building skills and imparting effective strategies for enacting change.
The author of Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See the World, Balcetis is a trailblazer in the field of motivation science and serves as Lab Director at NYU's Social Perception Action and Motivation (SPAM) Lab. Balcetis was also awarded NYU's 2022-2023 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award for the application of her various research to underserved populations, including creating training programs that address barriers to equal representation in higher education.