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Mercyhurst Intelligence Studies honored by Boeing for performance excellence

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The faculty-student research of intelligence studies associate professor Kristan Wheaton, J.D., and graduate assistant Melonie Richey has earned Mercyhurst University a Performance Excellence Award from Boeing.

Wheaton, Richey and 120 Mercyhurst intelligence studies students worked as subcontractors of The Boeing Company to study the effectiveness of digital games in mitigating cognitive biases. In the intelligence industry, falling prey to cognitive biases can lead to egregious errors in judgment and have far-reaching effects on U.S. security.

For its contribution to the project, Boeing recognized Mercyhurst with a Silver Performance Excellence Award.  Each year, Boeing recognizes suppliers who have achieved superior performance with Gold and Silver awards. This year, Boeing recognized 582 suppliers.

“It is an honor to be recognized by Boeing for performance excellence,” said James Breckenridge, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst. “Boeing is world renowned for the excellence of its products and operations. Recognition of Professor Wheaton and Ms. Richey for their work is a special tribute.”

Wheaton, a gamer and game creator who is widely known for his use of game-based methodologies in the teaching of intelligence analysis, acted as a subject matter expert on the project. Richey assisted with multiple tasks from literature review to data analysis, while Mercyhurst’s intelligence students acted as test subjects in measuring the effectiveness of games in identifying and mitigating biases.

Boeing and several other subcontractors provided a team of experts in animation, gaming, cognitive bias and neuroscience.

“Our experience with Boeing was outstanding,” said Wheaton.  “We learned quite a lot from the other members of the team and were lucky enough to be able to involve large numbers of graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty in the research.”

The video game developed by the team – The Enemy of Reason – was designed to help analysts learn to identify and overcome three cognitive biases identified by the intelligence community as most likely to cause errors in judgment:  Confirmation Bias, Fundamental Attribution Error and Bias Blind Spot.


The SIRIUS Program, as the research project was called, was supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) via the Air Force Research Laboratory.  IARPA  invests in high-risk/high-payoff research programs that have the potential to provide the United States with an overwhelming intelligence advantage over future adversaries.