MLD-302: Reason, Passion, and Policymaking

Semester: Spring

Credit: 1.0

Syllabus: Click here for syllabus

Faculty: Jennifer Lerner


Day Time Location
First Day 1/27
Meet Day T/Th 2:40 PM - 4:00 PM L130


A revolution in the science of emotion is underway, with important implications for decision making and public policy. This course begins by reviewing key scientific debates in emotion science. Is it necessary to think in order to feel? Who’s in charge - cognition or emotion? Does emotion make us less rational? When and why do emotions from one situation bias decisions in other, ostensibly unrelated, situations? What is happiness and can we attain it? As students acquire a solid understanding of emotion science, they will begin applying the material to a policymaking domain of their choice. Some examples: How do social movements harness emotion to recruit members? How can the emotional devotion that some child warriors feel toward extremist groups be reduced? How do political advertisements use emotions to persuade versus manipulate voters? How does sleep deprivation alter brain processing of emotion, and should knowledge of such be applied to high-stakes decision settings? What is “emotional intelligence” and should it be taught in public schools? Should the analysis of micro facial expressions be used in lie detection, job selection, and other key decisions? Across all topics, the course draws primarily from psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. The primary goals are to: (1) Learn about the academic field of emotion, its major theories, results, and debates. (2) Become a critical consumer of research by learning the methodological standards for evaluating the soundness of scientific studies. (3) Acquire practical skills for improving human wellbeing, broadly defined. (4) Develop a capstone project in which you apply the material to improve evidence-based understanding of an applied problem that involves emotion.


Enrollment is open to any Harvard University student with graduate student standing. Undergraduates may enroll only by permission of the instructor. No specific prerequisites but prior coursework in psychology will be a help. No space for auditors. Students who previously took MLD-305, may not also take MLD-302 for credit.




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