Jennifer S. Lerner

Jennifer S. Lerner

Professor of Public Policy and Management
Jennifer S. Lerner

Dr. Jennifer Lerner is Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as well as Director of the Harvard Laboratory for Decision Science. This inter-disciplinary laboratory, which she co-founded with two economists, draws primarily on psychology, economics, and neuroscience to study human judgment and decision-making.


Lerner pursues two primary research interests within the field of Decision Science: (1) emotion and (2) accountability. Her emotion research examines how human feelings influence outcomes involving risk perception, every day economic transactions, and legal judgments. For example, she has discovered that fear and anger have opposing effects on risk estimates, fear increasing and anger decreasing estimates. The insights gained from this work have implications not only for understanding how the brain works but also for understanding how public officials communicate risk, the latter represented in NATOs use of Lerner's work. The second topic, accountability, examines how authority relationships shape judgment and choice outcomes. For example, she and her colleagues have developed a model that predicts when accountability will improve judgment, when it will have no effect on judgment, and when it will make matters only worse. This work has implications for the design of both public and private institutions.


Professor Lerner publishes her research widely in scientific journals -- summaries of which appear in popular print (e.g., The New York Times) and broadcast media (e.g., Good Morning America). She also serves on the editorial boards for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and the Journal of Behavioral Decision Research. She has received several awards for her research, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). In a White House ceremony, the National Science Foundation and the President of the United States annually award the PECASE as the highest national honor for investigators in the early stages of promising research careers.


Lerner's teaching presently focuses on short-term, executive-level classes for government and military leaders. She is Founder and Director of Leadership Decision Making Harvard's executive education course on optimizing judgment and choice processes within government and military settings. She also teaches at the masters and doctoral level, typically emphasizing topics related to emotion, accountability, and decision making.


Professor Lerner joined the faculty at Harvard and received tenure as a full professor in 2007. Prior to Harvard, she was the McCandless Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. Taken together, awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have nearly continuously funded her training and research.

Contact Information

Harvard Kennedy School
p: 617-495-7573