MLD-302: Reason, Passion, and Policymaking

Semester: Spring

Credit: 1.0

Faculty: Jennifer Lerner


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


The course begins by examining modern scientific insights into human emotion. 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? Discussions of the ways that basic cognitive-emotional processes relate to decision making will be combined with an emphasis on a rigorous scientific approach. Throughout the course, students will apply the material to a policymaking domain of their choice. The lectures and discussions will be coordinated to complement weekly readings, which draw from psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Throughout the course, the primary goals are to: (1) Learn about the academic field of emotion and cognition, its major theories, results, and debates. (2) Become a critical consumer of research findings by learning: (a) how to find behavioral science studies on a given topic and (b) the methodological standards for evaluating the soundness of such studies. (3) Apply the research findings to a policy domain of your choice, e.g., health, business, education, the law, etc. (4) Develop the ability to effectively write and speak about behavioral science theories, results, and debates, especially as they relate to decisions with policy relevance. (5) Acquire practical skills for improving your own judgments and decisions. (6) Acquire knowledge of which biases individuals can fix with training/knowledge and which biases individuals cannot fix unless managers engage in institutional design (e.g., nudges). (7) Develop a capstone project in which you apply the material in a way that will improve professional decision making processes. Possible selections include legal process, government institutions, medical settings, and other areas where high stakes decisions are made regarding policy.


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 and economics will be a significant help. No space for auditors. Students who previously took MLD-305, may not also take MLD-302 for credit.


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