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Jennifer Lerner


Monday, October 02, 2017, 4:00PM - 5:30PM


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 (e.g., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), and cited over 16,000 times in scholarly publications alone. Many popular outlets, including Good Morning, America; National Public Radio; NOVA; the Wall Street Journal; the Washington Post; and the New York Times have also featured her work.


Drawing on the Appraisal-Tendency Framework (Lerner & Keltner, 2000; 2001), I will present a series of studies from my lab revealing that incidental anger systematically biases judgment and decision making by heightening perceptions of controllability and certainty, decreasing perceptions of risk, and increasing risk taking. I then will present a series of studies (also from my lab) revealing the ways in which such superficially “biased” responses prove to be both biologically adaptive and financially lucrative, especially for males. Taken together, the studies make clear that simple conclusions about the role of emotion in rationality obfuscate complex patterns of human behavior. Angry decision makers exhibit a predictable pattern of responses but the normative consequences of such responses hinge on specific situational contingencies.

Location : Decision Sciences Speaker Series
Contact : Portrait of an Angry Decision Maker
Psychology Building
Room 035
1835 Neil Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43210

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