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Dr. Jennifer Lerner is Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Co-Founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory. She is the first psychologist in the history of the Harvard Kennedy School to receive tenure.
Research: Drawing insights from psychology, economics, and neuroscience, her research examines human judgment and decision making. Together with colleagues, she has developed a theoretical framework that successfully predicts the effects of specific emotions on specific judgment and choice outcomes. Applied widely, the framework has been especially useful in predicting emotion effects on perceptions of risk, economic decisions, and attributions of responsibility. For example, she has discovered and explained why fear and anger – although both negative emotions – exert opposing effects on the perception of risk.
Lerner also pursues two related programs of research, examining (a) mechanisms through which accountability and other authority systems shape judgment and choice outcomes; and (b) causes and consequences of stress. Her work with colleagues has, for example, revealed pathways through which bio-behavioral factors (e.g., testosterone, cortisol, and anxiety) predict stress and leadership rank among government, military, and corporate professionals. Across all areas, her work aims to expand the evidentiary base for designing policies that maximize human wellbeing.
Lerner’s research has been published in leading scientific journals, and cited over 15,000 times in scholarly publications alone. Such popular outlets as Good Morning, America; National Public Radio; NOVA; the Wall Street Journal; the Washington Post; and the New York Times have all featured her work.
Selected awards: In a White House ceremony, Lerner received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists and engineers in early stages of their careers. She has also received the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award and the National Science Foundation’s "Sensational 60” designation. (The 60 members in this latter group are designated as the most prominent American scientists whose first grants were graduate school fellowships from the NSF.)
Teaching: As devoted to teaching as she is to research, Lerner has received several teaching awards including the Harvard Kennedy School’s “Dinner on the Dean” award for outstanding teaching (multiple times) and the Harvard Graduate Student Government’s “Lectures That Last Award.” Notably, she is the founding faculty director of Harvard’s popular “Leadership Decision Making” executive education program.
Advisory Boards and Steering Committee: Lerner is the first behavioral scientist ever appointed to the United States Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel and one of the first women ever appointed. In this role, she provides input to the Secretary on critical matters faced by the Navy and the Marine Corps. She also serves on the scientific advisory board for Accolade, Inc.; on an expert panel within the National Institutes of Health; and on the Faculty Steering Committee for Harvard’s Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative.
Education and employment history: She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California – Berkeley. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in health psychology and psycho-neuroendocrinology at UCLA, she became an assistant professor and later the Estella Loomis McCandless Associate Professor of Social and Decision Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Lerner joined the Harvard faculty and received tenure in 2007.
Personal: Lerner lives in Cambridge, MA, with her husband (Brian P. Gill), their daughter, and their dog. Having had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus without remission since childhood, Lerner is a strong advocate of increasing employment for persons with disabilities. In her spare time, Lerner leads a double life as a zealous sports mom, cheering for her daughter’s team at meets around New England
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