Human behavior and decision-making

Human behavior and decision-making is a featured research topic at Harvard Business School.
Ever since their origins about three decades ago, the Behavioral Science areas of economics, ethics and managerial psychology have been rapidly evolving. In the 1980's and 1990's, early work by Max Bazerman in judgment and negotiation, Matthew Rabin in behavioral economics, and James Sebenius in negotiations was instrumental in shaping research on Human Behavior & Decision-Making. Today, our research focuses on individual and interactive judgment and decision making and explores the role of personal bias, cognition and learning, time, perception, ethics and morality, and emotion.  
  1. Ron Johnson: A Career in Retail

    Das Narayandas, Joshua D. Margolis and Ryan Raffaelli

    In April 2013, Ron Johnson (HBS '84) stepped down after just 18 months as CEO of J.C. Penney. In his brief tenure, Johnson, an acclaimed retailer respected for his innovation and success in shaping the retail image at Target and Apple, introduced dramatic departures from J.C. Penney's traditional retail approach, and enacted changes quickly and simultaneously, with little market testing. Over Johnson's final 12 months as CEO, J.C. Penney shares dropped more than 50%. The case describes the environments at Target, Apple, and J.C. Penney during Johnson's tenure and how his experiences may have shaped the strategies that he implemented while CEO at J.C. Penney.

    Keywords: Change Management; Innovation Leadership; Situation or Environment; Failure; Management Teams; Brands and Branding; Retail Industry; United States;


    Narayandas, Das, Joshua D. Margolis, and Ryan Raffaelli. "Ron Johnson: A Career in Retail." Harvard Business School Case 516-016, July 2015. View Details
  2. Enabling Versus Controlling

    Andrei Hagiu and Julian Wright

    In an increasing number of industries, firms choose how much control to give professionals over the provision of their services to clients. We study the tradeoffs that arise in choosing between a traditional mode (where the firm takes control of service provision) and a platform mode (where professionals retain control over service provision). The choice of mode is determined by the need to balance two-sided moral hazard problems arising from investments that only professionals can make and investments that only the firm can make, while at the same time minimizing distortions in decisions that either party could make (e.g., promotion and marketing of professionals' services, price setting, choice of service offering, etc.).

    Keywords: platforms; Theory of the Firm; Vertical Integration; control rights; moral hazard;


    Hagiu, Andrei, and Julian Wright. "Enabling Versus Controlling." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-002, July 2015. View Details
  3. Preparatory Power Posing Affects Nonverbal Presence and Job Interview Outcomes

    Amy J.C. Cuddy, Caroline A. Wilmuth, Andy J. Yap and Dana R. Carney

    We tested whether engaging in expansive (vs. contractive) "power poses" before a stressful job interview—preparatory power posing—would enhance performance during the interview. Participants adopted high-power (i.e., expansive, open) poses or low-power (i.e., contractive, closed) poses, and then prepared and delivered a speech to two evaluators as part of a mock job interview. All interview speeches were videotaped and coded for overall performance and hireability, and for two potential mediators: verbal content (e.g., structure, content) and nonverbal presence (e.g., captivating, enthusiastic). As predicted, those who prepared for the job interview with high- (vs. low-) power poses performed better and were more likely to be chosen for hire; this relation was mediated by nonverbal presence, but not by verbal content. While previous research has focused on how a nonverbal behavior that is enacted during interactions and observed by perceivers affects how those perceivers evaluate and respond to the actor, this experiment focused on how a nonverbal behavior that is enacted before the interaction and unobserved by perceivers affects the actor's performance, which, in turn, affects how perceivers evaluate and respond to the actor. This experiment reveals a theoretically novel and practically informative result that demonstrates the causal relation between preparatory nonverbal behavior and subsequent performance and outcomes.

    Keywords: Power Posing; Social Evaluation; Nonverbal Behavior; presence; posture; job interviews; Behavior; Job Interviews;


    Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, Andy J. Yap, and Dana R. Carney. "Preparatory Power Posing Affects Nonverbal Presence and Job Interview Outcomes." Journal of Applied Psychology 100, no. 4 (July 2015): 1286–1295. View Details
  4. Gilbert Lumber Company

    Steven Rogers

    The Gilbert Lumber Co. is faced with a need for increased bank financing due to its rapid sales growth and low profitability. Students must determine the reasons for the rising bank borrowing, estimate the amount of borrowing needed, and assess the attractiveness of the loan to the bank. A rewritten version of an earlier case. Allows students to practice ratio analysis, financial forecasting, and evaluating financing alternatives.

    Keywords: Commercial Banking; Financial Crisis; Borrowing and Debt; Financial Strategy; Financing and Loans; Capital Structure; Forecasting and Prediction;


    Rogers, Steven. "Gilbert Lumber Company." Harvard Business School Case 315-137, June 2015. View Details
  5. High Liner Foods, 2015

    John R. Wells and Galen Danskin

    In 2015, Canadian-based High Liner Foods Ltd was one of North America's largest frozen fish processors with extensive shares of both the food service and retail channels in Canada, the USA and Mexico. With over C$1 billion in revenues, the company had grown four fold in the previous decade. President and CEO Henry Demone was pleased with recent progress, but things had not always been so good. As he approached retirement after 25 years as president, 61 year-old Demone reflected on the company's past challenges. When he first took office in 1989, High Liner operated Canada's largest fishing fleet, operating within the country's newly established 200 mile limit into the Atlantic. But storms were on the horizon. To conserve fish stocks, the Canadian government first cut fishing quotas by 12% and then followed this up with more draconian cuts. Demone recalled, "Imagine a paper company, if 95 percent of the forest disappeared." In response, Demone took High Liner out of the fish harvesting business and focused on processing fish. In 2015, the company imported fish from hundreds of suppliers around the world and was a leading supplier of frozen fillets and value-added fish products to retailers and food service distributors throughout North America.
    In 2015, Demone was planning for his succession while charting routes to sustain the company's growth. In Canada, High Liner was number one in both the food service and retail channels and had achieved four times the retail brand share of the next competitor. What goals should he be setting the newly appointed head of Canadian operations, Jeff O'Neill? Should he retain focus on frozen fish or broaden horizons? In the USA, High Liner was also leader in food service, but number two in the retail channel and facing strong competitors. Did it make sense to fight well-entrenched firms for market share? Or should the company's focus be on developing markets such as Asia? High Liner already sourced from the region. Should its use its expertise in frozen fish to build its business there?

    Keywords: strategy; Strategic Analysis; strategic decision making; family business; commodities; Strategic Planning; Strategy; Competitive Strategy; Food and Beverage Industry; North America; Canada;


    Wells, John R., and Galen Danskin. "High Liner Foods, 2015." Harvard Business School Case 715-463, June 2015. View Details
  6. 2012 Obama Campaign: Learning in the Field

    Leonard A. Schlesinger and Jason Gray

    The development and utilization of an intentional Field learning strategy developed for the Obama for President campaign in 2012 following an after action Review calling for it after the 2008 elections

    Keywords: training; political campaigns; Learning Organizations; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Learning; Political Elections; Organizational Change and Adaptation; United States;


    Schlesinger, Leonard A., and Jason Gray. "2012 Obama Campaign: Learning in the Field." Harvard Business School Case 315-127, June 2015. View Details
  7. Mums the Word! Cross-national Effects of Maternal Employment on Gender Inequalities at Work and at Home

    Kathleen L. McGinn, Mayra Ruiz Castro and Elizabeth Long Lingo

    Our research considers how inequalities in public and the private spheres are affected by childhood exposure to non‐traditional gender role models at home. We test the association between being raised by an employed mother and adult men’s and women’s outcomes at work and at home. Our analyses rely on national level archival data from multiple sources and individual level survey data collected as part of the International Social Survey Programme in 2002 and 2012 from nationally representative samples of men and women in 24 countries. Adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to be employed, more likely to hold supervisory responsibility if employed, work more hours, and earn marginally higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home fulltime. The effects on labor market outcomes are non-­‐significant for men. Maternal employment is also associated with adult outcomes at home. Sons raised by an employed mother spend more time caring for family members than men whose mothers stayed home fulltime, and daughters raised by an employed mother spend less time on housework than women whose mothers stayed home fulltime. Our findings reveal the potential for non‐traditional gender role models to gradually erode gender inequality in homes and labor markets.


    McGinn, Kathleen L., Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo. "Mums the Word! Cross-national Effects of Maternal Employment on Gender Inequalities at Work and at Home." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-094, June 2015. (Revised July 2015.) View Details
  8. The Coca-Cola Company's Case for Creative Transformation

    Thales S. Teixeira and Elizabeth Anne Watkins

    In 2013, the Coca-Cola Company was awarded Creative Marketer of the Year by the Cannes Lions Festival (known as the "Oscar of Advertising") for the first time ever in history and nearly 50 years after the Festival's inception. Just one year before that, Jonathan Mildenhall, Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Content and Design Excellence, orchestrated the development of Content 2020, a blueprint for how all Coca-Cola's branding content ranging from traditional TV commercials to viral and social media content should be procured, built, tested, and distributed in the next 10 years. This case provides a unique opportunity to "look under the hood" and understand how the main principles of Content 2020 work and infer how the beverage company achieved its most prestigious marketing award of all time.

    Keywords: attention economics; creativity; Creating Connections; marketing; digital marketing; marketing innovations; social networks; advertising; advertising content; networked brand; beverage industry; Coca-Cola; Digital Innovation; digital transition; Marketing; Marketing Communications; Innovation Strategy; Social and Collaborative Networks; Advertising; Creativity; Consumer Products Industry;


    Teixeira, Thales S., and Elizabeth Anne Watkins. "The Coca-Cola Company's Case for Creative Transformation." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 815-714, June 2015. View Details
  9. The Valuation and Financing of Lady M Confections

    Mihir A. Desai and Elizabeth A. Meyer

    This case explores the decision-making process that small, private businesses must undertake when considering an expansion and when selling equity to outside investors. In the process, students are asked to complete two exercises: a break-even analysis and a valuation exercise.

    Keywords: lady m; bakery; foodservice industry; valuation; Breakeven analysis; restaurant industry; Forecasting; forecast; financial analysis; Borrowing and Debt; Corporate Finance; Equity; Financial Management; Financial Strategy; Finance; Food; Valuation; Food and Beverage Industry; New York (city, NY);


    Desai, Mihir A., and Elizabeth A. Meyer. "The Valuation and Financing of Lady M Confections." Harvard Business School Case 215-047, June 2015. View Details
  10. Peter and Katie Buy their First Home

    Charles F. Wu, Steven Hirsch, Beatrice Liem, Kevin Ryan and Derrick Snyder

    Peter and Kate Rose are a young couple looking to buy their first home in the Boston area. They have narrowed down a target list to three homes, but are also considering whether it makes sense to buy a home in the first place. They must make decisions regarding which home to buy, a price, a broker, a mortgage package, and how to source a down payment. Both quantitative and qualititave factors are considered in their decision making.

    Keywords: real estate; real assets; Housing; Investing; personal investing; brokerage; Housing; Property; Private Ownership; Investment; Real Estate Industry; United States; Boston; New England; Massachusetts; North America;


    Wu, Charles F., Steven Hirsch, Beatrice Liem, Kevin Ryan, and Derrick Snyder. "Peter and Katie Buy their First Home." Harvard Business School Case 215-080, June 2015. (Revised July 2015.) View Details
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