Case | HBS Case Collection | February 2004

Note on Human Behavior: Reason and Emotion

by Nitin Nohria and Bridget Gurtler

Abstract

Human beings are driven by reasons and emotions. On the one hand, as rational choice theorists assert, human beings are resourceful and evaluative as they strive to maximize their own interests. An individual's interests can converge or diverge from the interests of the organization. Thus, to bring the resourcefulness of individuals to benefit the organization, control systems must be designed to align the interests of the organization and the individual. On the other hand, it has long been recognized (and reinforced by contemporary research on the human brain) that human beings are also driven by emotions. Emotions can be in accord with rational behavior (e.g., when fear evokes caution in the face of danger, or pride motivates greater effort). But emotions can also be at odds with rational behavior (e.g., when pain avoidance leads to an unwillingness to confront difficult decisions, or shame leads to cover-ups, or hubris leads to excessive optimism). Understanding the importance of both reason and emotion is, thus, critical to designing organizations, control systems, and governance structures that promote desired behaviors. Teaching Purpose: Some model of human nature, implicitly if not explicitly, guides any manager's actions. It is useful for students to be aware of these underlying assumptions and attentive to ways reason and emotion shape their own behavior and those of others around them.

Keywords: Behavior; Cognition and Thinking; Emotions; Interests; Organizations; Organizational Design; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms;

Citation:

Nohria, Nitin, and Bridget Gurtler. "Note on Human Behavior: Reason and Emotion." Harvard Business School Case 404-104, February 2004.