Harvard Decision Science Laboratory Receives Major Grant From the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: (617) 495-1115
Date: January 25, 2011

Cambridge, Mass.—The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory (HDSL), a cross-faculty research facility based at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, has received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to support the lab’s scientific research in human judgment and decision-making.

“To receive such a major grant at this early stage is an enormous boost, and a gratifying acknowledgement of early success,” says Jennifer Lerner, lab faculty director and professor of public policy and management. “This support helps catalyze the lab’s emergence as a hub for a growing community of researchers in decision science at Harvard.”

HDSL is a world-class 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.

“I see terrific potential in the Decision Science Lab’s unique approach and University-wide focus,” says David T. Ellwood, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Scott M. Black Professor of Economics. “Through a better understanding of the factors behind decision-making processes, we can help ensure that leaders make the most reasonable decisions in day-to-day and crisis situations.”

Investigators at HDSL have the ability to gauge a comprehensive range of physiological signals in order to isolate the separate influences of emotion, the neuroendocrine system, the autonomic nervous system, and cognitive systems on decision-making. The research offers strong implications for determining how humans assess risks, evaluate options, and make choices.

The Hewlett Foundation grant provides general support for HDSL and its operations.

“We see the work that Jenn Lerner and her colleagues are doing as an immense contribution on the part of the behavioral sciences to improving the quality and the implementation of public policy,” says Paul Brest, president of the Hewlett Foundation. “Their work could improve policy outcomes in areas as divergent as health, national security, education, and the environment.”

Lerner is joined in the leadership of HDSL by Professors Iris Bohnet of Harvard Kennedy School and David Laibson of Harvard’s Economics Department. The lab’s faculty advisory board is chaired by Professor Max Bazerman of Harvard Business School. Mark Edington is the laboratory’s executive director.

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