Co-founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory
Dr. Jennifer Lerner is Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, 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. 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 shown that fear and anger – although both negative emotions – exert opposing effects on the perception of risk. She also actively pursues two other 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 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 public policies that maximize human wellbeing.
Lerner is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, as well as the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers. Recently, Lerner was again honored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as one of the "Sensational 60," a group designated as prominent scientists whose first grants were graduate school fellowships from the NSF. Her work has been published in leading scientific journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, and Psychological Science, and has been covered by such media outlets as Good Morning, America; National Public Radio; NOVA; the Wall Street Journal; the Washington Post; and the New York Times. (Track her scholarly papers via Google Scholar.)
Lerner has also received teaching awards, including the Harvard Kennedy School “Dinner on the Dean” for outstanding teacher evaluations. She is the founding faculty director of an executive education program at Harvard entitled “Leadership Decision Making.” In addition to giving academic talks both nationally and internationally, Lerner serves as a consultant for private- and public-sector organizations, including US Army Special Operations, NATO, and the United Nations. She received her Ph.D. in 1998 from the University of California – Berkeley. Previously an assistant professor and Estella Loomis McCandless Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Lerner joined the Harvard faculty in 2007. Since 2008, she and her husband have been privileged to serve as Co-Faculty Directors in one of the buildings designed for Harvard's Graduate Commons Program -- a residential, interdisciplinary program that unites graduate students from across all areas of study into vibrant living-learning communities. Together with their joyful daughter and recovering rescue dog, they enjoy creating a nurturing and stimulating home for graduate students.