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Jennifer Lerner

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management

Organizational leaders make decisions involving risk and uncertainty every day. Whom should our organization hire? Should we choose the gamble or the sure thing? How should we structure accountability systems? How do we avoid operating out of fear? But a leader's impact only goes so far unless they take steps to engineer optimal decision environments for the organization as a whole. By gaining an understanding of fundamental mind-brain-behavior relationships in judgment and decision making, you will become better able to design decision environments that make everyone smarter - i.e., less susceptible to common errors and biases and more likely to make optimal choices. Taking this course will not, however, tell you what to choose.  Instead, it will give you frameworks that reveal how to choose and how to structure optimal decision environments. Throughout the course, the overarching goals are to: (1) Learn about the academic field of behavioral decision making, its major theories, results, and debates. (2) Become a critical consumer of research findings, learning methodological standards for evaluating the soundness of empirical studies. (3) Develop the ability to effectively write and speak about behavioral science theories, results, and debates. (4) Acquire practical skills for improving your own judgments and decisions. (5) Acquire knowledge of which biases individuals can fix with training/knowledge and which biases individuals cannot fix unless leaders engage in institutional design (e.g., nudges). (6) Apply course material in order to improve decision making processes in the real world. For example, in a special SPRING 2021 edition of the course, many projects will focus on ameliorating harmful effects of the pandemic.  Senior public leaders (e.g., mayors) will serve as clients; they have already submitted challenges for students in the course to address.

Enrollment in MLD-301 is open to any Harvard University student with graduate student standing (master's or doctoral degree). Doctoral students will have customized assignments and an additional meeting time in order to receive credit. No prerequisites are required for MLD-301 but introductory coursework in psychology and economics will be a significant help. The class is also offered for advanced undergraduates by the Psychology Department as PSY 1584. In rare cases, undergraduates who do not meet the Psychology prerequisites may enroll but only by permission of the instructor. There is no space for auditors under either course number. Please note: students will also participate in a weekly team project meeting to be scheduled with the teaching team.