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The U.S. Army invaded the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory one day earlier this month (March 3). A group of 16 Cadets served as study subjects in a demonstration experiment to help inform researchers on the ways in which opinions are formed and decisions are made by young military leaders. The session was organized by the Lab's executive director Mark Edington at the behest of Army Colonel Kevin Felix, a National Security Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).
Felix fostered the collaborative effort after attending a briefing at the Lab in August under the direction of Lab Director Jennifer Lerner, professor of public policy and management, and after attending a class taught by adjunct lecturer Christopher Oveis, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the Lab.
"I believe collaboration with academic centers of excellence in decision science is the way forward for the Army," Felix said. "We need to help shape and guide the science to see where it might take us in helping to increase awareness of self and of others, and to determine how emotion impacts how we act and how we decide. This understanding of self can improve soldiers’ decision making in their personal lives, and in how they approach decisions from the tactical through strategic level."
Among other things, the Cadets were asked to identify emotion on faces that would flash before them on the Lab computer screens, answered a series of questions relating to risk tolerance/avoidance, and were tested for their capacity to frame decisions and their tendency to continue pursuing a failing course of action, all of which relate to their roles and responsibilities on the battlefield.
"Decision science could play a big role in our current military operating environment, in which the mission of counter-insurgency involves increased personal interaction with locals, as part of the effort of separating the population from the enemy," Felix said. "Understanding emotion recognition is just one way in which the study of emotions, within the space of decision science, could provide real clues to how to win within the non-kinetic human dimension of the warfighters' mission."
Edington commented that, "the findings emerging from decision science research will have implications for a broad range of functional concerns — the training of commissioned officers, the work of civil affairs units in specific cultural settings, the assessment of threats to deployed forces, even the crafting of decision processes that undergird choices at the strategic level."
Cadet Chris Nadd West Point 2011 remarked that the experience in the Lab reinforced to him the importance of the mind-body synthesis in the field.
"As commissioned officers in the United States Army, our lives are going to revolve around decisions and how we make decisions," he said. "This [research] won't help us make better decisions, but it will help us approach decision making in the right way, and that is truly invaluable."
The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, which opened in 2009, is a university-wide bio-behavioral research facility featuring an innovative combination of approaches from psychology, economics, and neuroscience. It provides a model for a new type of research center, serving as a cross-disciplinary home for Harvard students and faculty to collaborate on studies examining judgment and choice. During the past calendar year, the lab has hosted 36 researchers from six different faculties at Harvard who ran more than six hundred experimental sessions in the facility.
Adjunct lecturer Christopher Oveis (L), a postdoctoral fellow at the Lab; and Army Col. Kevin Felix (R), HKS National Security Fellow.
"Understanding emotion recognition is just one way in which the study of emotions, within the space of decision science, could provide real clues to how to win within the non-kinetic human dimension of the warfighters' mission." — Army Col. Kevin Felix
Cadets undergo testing in the laboratory.
Photo credits, Doug Gavel.