Dr. Jennifer Lerner
Dr. Jennifer Lerner is the Thornton F. Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Management, and Decision Science at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is the first psychologist in the history of the Harvard Kennedy School to receive tenure. Professor Lerner also holds appointments in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences. In addition to her roles at Harvard, Professor Lerner served in the federal government from 2018-2019 as the Navy’s first Chief Decision Scientist and as Special Advisor to the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations.
Research: Drawing insights from psychology, economics, and neuroscience, her research examines human judgment and decision making. Together with colleagues, she 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. Across all areas, her work aims to expand the evidentiary base for designing policies that maximize human wellbeing. Published in leading scientific journals, and cited over 27,000 times in scholarly publications alone, Lerner’s research also regularly receives coverage in popular media outlets (e.g., Good Morning, America; National Public Radio; NOVA; the Wall Street Journal; the Washington Post; and The New York Times).
Selected awards: In a White House ceremony, Lerner received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists and engineers in early stages of their careers. She has also received the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award and the National Science Foundation’s "Sensational 60” designation. (The 60 members in this latter group are designated as the most prominent American scientists whose first grants were graduate school fellowships from the NSF.)
Teaching: As devoted to teaching as she is to research, Lerner has received multiple teaching awards including: the Harvard Kennedy School’s “Dinner on the Dean” award for outstanding teaching (many times), the Harvard “Innovations in Learning and Teaching Award” for curricular innovation, the Harvard Graduate Student Government’s “Lectures That Last Award,” and the Raymond Vernon Commemorative Award for mentoring junior faculty. Notably, she is also the founding faculty director of Harvard’s popular “Leadership Decision Making” executive education program.
Advisory Boards and Steering Committee: Lerner serves on a diverse set of boards, including the scientific advisory boards for two corporations in the machine learning and decision-making space (Accolade, Inc. and OnCorps, Inc.) as well as the Faculty Steering Committee for Harvard’s Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative. Previously, she served for two years on an expert panel within the National Institutes of Health and for three years as the first behavioral scientist ever appointed to the United States Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel. In this role, she provided input to the Secretary on critical matters faced by the Navy and the Marine Corps.
Education and employment history: In 1998, Lerner received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California – Berkeley. After a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, Lerner joined the Carnegie Mellon University faculty. She served as Assistant Professor of Social and Decision Science, and later the Estella Loomis McCandless Associate Professor of Social and Decision Science. Lerner joined the Harvard faculty and received tenure in 2007.
Personal: Lerner lives in the greater Boston area with her husband (Brian P. Gill), their daughter, and their dog. Having had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus without remission since childhood, Lerner is a strong advocate of increasing employment for persons with disabilities. In her spare time, Lerner leads a double life as a zealous sports mom, cheering for her daughter’s team.