Focus on Faculty: Meghan Carmody-Bubb
Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2014
July 3, 1988, the Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes mistook a civilian
aircraft leaving Iran for an enemy F-14 Tomcat fighter and fired. The
misidentification resulted in the loss of all 290 on board Iran Air Flight 265,
including 66 children.
How could such a tragic mistake have
Students in Meghan Carmody-Bubb’s decision-making class study
the case. They are put into a situation where they are in hostile waters and are
dealing with a situation similar to one in which, months earlier, an Iraqi jet
fired missiles at the USS Stark, killing 37 and wounding 21.
that the computer systems aboard the USS Vincennes identified the airplane,
which had taken off from a joint civilian/military airfield, as a threat, but
the commander was uncertain, the information ambiguous, and the pilot of the
airplane in question was not responding to queries from the Vincennes.
They learn other details and data the commander of the missile cruiser
weighed at the time, along with the rules of protocol, and the fact that the
commander had less than four minutes to decide the fate of his 400
Then they are asked: With the same information, what would
you have done in that moment?
“Many of them make the same decision that
the commander of the cruiser made – to fire upon the civilian airliner,”
The information available to the commander was
incomplete and ambiguous. In hindsight, that is clear. As a result, the Navy
formed a program called, Tactical Decision Making Under Stress.
students in Carmody-Bubb’s decision-making class learn theory, they also learn
application, largely by studying history. They learn the psychology behind
decision-making under stress and how the brain processes information relevant to
those decisions. They learn how to incorporate the principles of sound
decision-making into their lives and professional careers.
process information under stress is very different from the boardroom type
decision making,” says Carmody-Bubb, chair of the OLLU Department of Leadership
Studies. “Stressful decisions are ones that tend to have ambiguous information.
The information can be time-stressed and the situations tend to be high
Students also examine famous military events during the Kennedy
administration. They compare and contrast the decision-making process and
outcome of the Bay of Pigs with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
behind decision-making, particularly in the military, is a life-long
fascination. Carmody-Bubb grew up in the shadow of Randolph Air Force Base, the
youngest of nine children of a World War II pilot. An older brother who became a
Marine used to take her and four sisters into the woods to play war
Richard Carmody, her father, not only flew planes. He reviewed
aviation accidents and the factors that led to them. “He was full of stories,”
Carmody-Bubb says. “A lot of what he talked about I found really
As a psychology major at Texas A&M, she inquired about
the Navy. While working on her PhD in experimental psychology at Texas Tech,
Carmody-Bubb enlisted. She served for nine years, primarily as a researcher and
aerospace experimental psychologist.
“Most of my research centered around
two major areas,” she says. “One was survival in extreme environments. The other
was human performance in the cockpit and improving human performance through
She came to the Lake in 2006. At the master’s and
doctoral level, Carmody-Bubb teaches research methods and decision making.
“I enjoy teaching,” she says. “I learn as much in the classroom as
anybody else because we have people from so many different backgrounds. We’ve
had school counselors, police officers, FBI agents, military officers. So every
time I’m working with somebody on a dissertation I learn quite a bit about a new
topic area. That is extremely rewarding.”