Jennifer S. Lerner is an experimental social psychologist known for her research in emotion and decision theory. She is the first psychologist in the history of the Harvard Kennedy School to receive tenure. At Harvard, her titles include Professor of Public Policy and Management, Professor of Psychology (by courtesy appointment), Faculty Director in the Graduate Commons Program, Co-Founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory and Co-Director of the Harvard Faculty Group on Emotion, Decision Making, and Health. Her research interests also include: the effects of accountability on judgment and choice and a broad range of psychology applications to policy problems especially in decisions involving health, national security, and economic prosperity. An award-winning teacher, she founded and directs the Leadership Decision Making program within Harvard Kennedy School's executive education program.
Lerner received her B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan Honors College in 1990. She received her M.A and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1994 and 1998, respectively. Her postdoctoral fellowship through a National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award (NRSA) took place at UCLA and focused on biological bases of emotion. From 1999 to 2007 she served on the faculty of the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. Her primary PhD advisors were Dacher Keltner, Philip E. Tetlock and Shelley Taylor. She also received an Honorary M.A. Degree from Harvard University in 2007.
Work in psychology
Lerner's research focuses on the influence of specific emotions (e.g., happiness or anger), in contrast to most models, which focus on larger categories of emotions (e.g., positive moods or negative moods) on behavior and decision making. She has proposed a framework which predicts that the influence of a specific emotion on judgment depends on a variety of cognitive factors related to the source of each emotion. Currently she is working to test predictions from this framework. For example, in a series of studies, her research examines the distinct effects of fear, anger, and happiness on risk perception and risk preference.
Honors and awards
Lerner has been the recipient of numerous academic awards from psychological and educational associations:
- Radcliffe Institute Fellow, 2010–2011
- Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), awarded by the National Science Foundation and The President of the United States, 2004
- Estella Loomis McCandless Endowed (Junior) Chair, Carnegie Mellon, 2004–2007
- The National Science Foundation Career Award 2003-2008
- National Research Service Award, The National Institute of Mental Health, 1998–1999
- The National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1993–1996
- Highest Honors in Psychology, University of Michigan, 1990
- James B. Angell Scholar, University of Michigan, 1989–1990
Dr. Lerner is the first behavioral scientist ever appointed to the United States Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel and one of the first women ever appointed. In this role, she chairs a working group on evidence-based decision making and, more generally, provides strategic advice to the Secretary regarding management of the Navy and the Marine Corps. She also serves on the scientific advisory board for Accolade, Inc.; on an expert panel within the National Institutes of Health; and on the Faculty Steering Committee for Harvard’s Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative.