Elizabeth A. Keenan - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Elizabeth A. Keenan

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Elizabeth Keenan is an assistant professor of business administration in the Marketing Unit. She teaches the Marketing course in the MBA required curriculum.

Professor Keenan’s research explores individuals’ prosocial choices and behaviors within the domains of charitable giving and environmental sustainability. Her research has been published in Science, the Journal of Consumer Research, and Nature Climate Change, and it has been cited by media outlets including NPR, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report.

Professor Keenan earned her PhD in marketing at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego; an MAS in marine biodiversity and conservation, also at UC San Diego; and a BS in biology at Loyola Marymount University. Prior to her doctoral studies, Professor Keenan spent ten years in nonprofit management and education at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Journal Articles
  1. Pseudo-Set Framing

    Kate Barasz, Leslie John, Elizabeth A. Keenan and Michael I. Norton

    Pseudo-set framing—arbitrarily grouping items or tasks together as part of an apparent “set”—motivates people to reach perceived completion points. Pseudo-set framing changes gambling choices (Study 1), effort (Studies 2 and 3), giving behavior (Field Data and Study 4), and purchase decisions (Study 5). These effects persist in the absence of any reward, when a cost must be incurred, and after participants are explicitly informed of the arbitrariness of the set. Drawing on Gestalt psychology, we develop a conceptual account that predicts what will—and will not—act as a pseudo-set and defines the psychological process through which these pseudo-sets affect behavior, concluding that over and above typical reference points, pseudo-set framing alters perceptions of (in)completeness, making intermediate progress seem less complete. In turn, these feelings of incompleteness motivate people to persist until the pseudo-set has been fulfilled.

    Keywords: framing effects; Gestalt psychology; judgment; decision making; perception; Judgments; Decision Making; Perception; Behavior;


    Barasz, Kate, Leslie John, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Michael I. Norton. "Pseudo-Set Framing." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 146, no. 10 (October 2017): 1460–1477.  View Details
  2. The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers' Perceptions of Sharks

    Andy Nosal, Elizabeth A. Keenan, Philip A. Hastings and Ayelet Gneezy

    Despite the ongoing need for shark conservation and management, prevailing negative sentiments marginalize these animals and legitimize permissive exploitation. These negative attitudes arise from an instinctive yet exaggerated fear, which is validated and reinforced by disproportionate and sensationalistic news coverage of shark ‘attacks’ and by highlighting shark-on-human violence in popular movies and documentaries. In this study, we investigate another subtler yet powerful factor that contributes to this fear: the ominous background music that often accompanies shark footage in documentaries. Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music or silence. This finding was not an artifact of soundtrack alone because attitudes toward sharks did not differ among participants assigned to audio-only control treatments. This is the first study to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers' attitudes toward sharks. Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content.

    Keywords: Natural Environment; Prejudice and Bias; Marketing; Attitudes; Music Entertainment;


    Nosal, Andy, Elizabeth A. Keenan, Philip A. Hastings, and Ayelet Gneezy. "The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers' Perceptions of Sharks." PLoS ONE 11, no. 8 (August 2016).  View Details
  3. Advancing Conservation by Understanding and Influencing Human Behavior

    Sheila M. Reddy, Jensen Montambault, Yuta J. Masuda, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth Keenan, William Butler, Jonathan R. Fisher and Stanley T. Asah

    Behavioral sciences can advance conservation by systematically identifying behavioral barriers to conservation and how to best overcome them. Behavioral sciences have informed policy in many other realms (e.g., health, savings), but they are a largely untapped resource for conservation. We propose a set of guiding questions for applying behavioral insights to conservation policy. These questions help define the conservation problem as a behavior change problem, understand behavioral mechanisms and identify appropriate approaches for behavior change (awareness, incentives, nudges), and evaluate and adapt approaches based on new behavioral insights. We provide a foundation for the questions by synthesizing a wide range of behavior change models and evidence related to littering, water and energy conservation, and land management. We also discuss the methodology and data needed to answer these questions. We illustrate how these questions have been answered in practice to inform efforts to promote conservation for climate risk reduction. Although more comprehensive research programs to answer these questions are needed, some insights are emerging. Integrating two or more behavior change approaches that target multiple, context-dependent factors may be most successful; however, caution must be taken to avoid approaches that could undermine one another (e.g., economic incentives crowding out intrinsic incentives).

    Keywords: adaptive management; awareness; Behavioral economics; behavioral science; conservation intervention; conservation planning; decision-making; incentives; nudge; Management; Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Marketing; Decision Making; Environmental Sustainability; Economics;


    Reddy, Sheila M., Jensen Montambault, Yuta J. Masuda, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth Keenan, William Butler, Jonathan R. Fisher, and Stanley T. Asah. "Advancing Conservation by Understanding and Influencing Human Behavior." Conservation Letters 10, no. 2 (March–April 2017): 248–256. (doi:10.1111/conl.12252. Pre-published online, October 2016.)  View Details
  4. Avoiding Overhead Aversion in Charity

    Uri Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan and Ayelet Gneezy

    Donors tend to avoid charities that dedicate a high percentage of expenses to administrative and fundraising costs, limiting the ability of nonprofits to be effective. We propose a solution to this problem: Use donations from major philanthropists to cover overhead expenses and offer potential donors an overhead-free donation opportunity. A laboratory experiment testing this solution confirms that donations decrease when overhead increases, but only when donors pay for overhead themselves. In a field experiment with 40,000 potential donors, we compared the overhead-free solution with other common uses of initial donations. Consistent with prior research, informing donors that seed money has already been raised increases donations, as does a $1:$1 matching campaign. Our main result, however, clearly shows that informing potential donors that overhead costs are covered by an initial donation significantly increases the donation rate by 80% (or 94%) and total donations by 75% (or 89%) compared with the seed (or matching) approach.

    Keywords: Marketing Strategy; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving;


    Gneezy, Uri, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Ayelet Gneezy. "Avoiding Overhead Aversion in Charity." Science 346, no. 6209 (October 31, 2014): 632–635.  View Details
  5. How Warm Days Increase Belief in Global Warming

    Lisa Zaval, Elizabeth A. Keenan, Eric J. Johnson and Elke U. Weber

    Climate change judgments can depend on whether today seems warmer or colder than usual, termed the local warming effect. Although previous research has demonstrated that this effect occurs, studies have yet to explain why or how temperature abnormalities influence global warming attitudes. A better understanding of the underlying psychology of this effect can help explain the public's reaction to climate change and inform approaches used to communicate the phenomenon. Across five studies, we find evidence of attribute substitution, whereby individuals use less relevant but available information (for example, today's temperature) in place of more diagnostic but less accessible information (for example, global climate change patterns) when making judgments. Moreover, we rule out alternative hypotheses involving climate change labelling and lay mental models. Ultimately, we show that present temperature abnormalities are given undue weight and lead to an overestimation of the frequency of similar past events, thereby increasing belief in and concern for global warming.

    Keywords: Weather and Climate Change; Attitudes;


    Zaval, Lisa, Elizabeth A. Keenan, Eric J. Johnson, and Elke U. Weber. "How Warm Days Increase Belief in Global Warming." Nature Climate Change 4, no. 2 (February 2014): 143–147.  View Details
  6. Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field

    Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan and Leif D. Nelson

    Influencing behavior change is an ongoing challenge in psychology, economics, and consumer behavior research. Building on previous work on commitment, self-signaling, and the principle of consistency, a large, intensive field experiment (N = 2,416) examined the effect of hotel guests' commitment to practice environmentally friendly behavior during their stay. Notably, commitment was symbolic—guests were unaware of the experiment and of the fact that their behavior would be monitored, which allowed them to exist in anonymity and behave as they wish. When guests made a brief but specific commitment at check-in, and received a lapel pin to symbolize their commitment, they were over 25% more likely to hang at least one towel for reuse, and this increased the total number of towels hung by over 40%. This research highlights how a small, carefully planned intervention can have a significant impact on behavior. Theoretical and practical implications for motivating desired behavior are discussed.

    Keywords: Behavior; Marketing;


    Baca-Motes, Katie, Amber Brown, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Leif D. Nelson. "Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field." Journal of Consumer Research 39, no. 5 (February 2013): 1070–1084.  View Details
Cases and Teaching Materials
  1. Back to the Roots

    Elizabeth A. Keenan and Leslie K. John

    Back to the Roots is a startup with a social mission to “undo food”—to reconnect people to where their food comes from. In late 2017, they are contemplating their next move. Back to the Roots has an eclectic portfolio of products, including ready-to-grow (e.g., gardens in a can) and ready-to-eat (e.g., cereal) products, and they are being courted by two major players in each category. With an award-winning snack bar in their hands, they are now debating whether they should delve further in to the ready-to-eat category. It is a competitive space and they wonder if they are ready to launch yet another new product and, if so, what this move would mean for their ready-to-grow product line.

    Keywords: Product Marketing; Growth and Development Strategy; Decision Making; Food; Food and Beverage Industry;


    Keenan, Elizabeth A., and Leslie K. John. "Back to the Roots." Harvard Business School Case 518-073, June 2018.  View Details
  2. Adeo Health Science: Turning a Product into a Brand

    Elizabeth A. Keenan and Jill Avery

    For decades, American parents were warned to avoid introducing potential allergens to their babies prior to their first birthday. But two influential clinical studies caused the medical establishment to radically reverse its position. Parents were now warned that delaying the introduction of these types of foods increased a baby's risk of food allergies. Adeo Health Science was ready, with patents filed for a baby food that made it simple for parents to introduce allergens. Now, the new company had to turn its product into a brand and map its go-to-market strategy, including creating a compelling value proposition, choosing a path to market that was either direct-to-consumer, through grocery retailers, or via the physician channel, and planning its marketing communications and sales strategy. As a new startup with constrained resources, the company knew its marketing decisions would make or break the new product.

    Keywords: marketing; Startup; entrepreneurship; health care; consumer; consumer products; branding; brands and branding; marketing strategy; Marketing communications; Distribution; retailing; go to market strategy; Marketing; Marketing Channels; Marketing Communications; Brands and Branding; Marketing Strategy; Entrepreneurship; Health Care and Treatment; Consumer Products Industry; Health Industry; United States; North America;


    Keenan, Elizabeth A., and Jill Avery. "Adeo Health Science: Turning a Product into a Brand." Harvard Business School Case 518-065, January 2018. (Revised April 2018.)  View Details
  3. But, It's For a Good Cause

    Elizabeth Keenan and John Gourville

    Companies have long tried to enhance consumers’ perceptions of their firms and the products they sell in a variety of ways. Such efforts include the development of a brand image that the public views favorably, as in the case of Apple. It extends to the development of memorable advertising, as with Nike's “Just Do it” campaign. It includes associations with famous individuals (e.g., Michael Jordan) or with charitable entities (e.g., the Ronald McDonald House). And it encompasses efforts to be environmentally conscious, as when Starbucks buys from sustainable sources or when S’well encourages the purchase of its reusable water bottle to reduce the use of plastic drinking containers.

    Keywords: social change; marketing and society; Social Marketing; Brands and Branding; Customers; Perception;


    Keenan, Elizabeth, and John Gourville. "But, It's For a Good Cause." Harvard Business School Case 517-062, November 2016.  View Details