Jennifer Lerner Photo

Jennifer Lerner

Professor of Public Policy and Management
Office Address
79 John F. Kennedy St. Littauer Bldg 352
Email Mailing Address

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 s/he takes 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. Taking this course will not tell you what to choose but it will give you frameworks that reveal how to choose and how to structure optimal decision environments. Specifically, course topics will include (a) fundamental mental processes in perception, memory and context dependence; (b) how questions affect answers; (c) models of decision making; (d) heuristics and biases; (e) social and group influences; (f) common traps; and (g) debiasing techniques. We will also discuss emotional influences on decision making. The lectures and discussions will be coordinated to complement weekly readings, which draw from psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. 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) Develop a capstone project in which you apply the material in a way that will improve professional decision making processes. Possible applications to legal process, government institutions, medical settings, public health, education, finance and other domains abound.

Also offered by the Psychology Department as PSY 1584. Enrollment 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. Advanced undergraduates may enroll only by permission of the instructor. No prerequisites are required but introductory coursework in psychology and economics will be a significant help. No space for auditors.

Review session: Friday 2:45-4:00pm