Human behavior and decision-making

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, David Garvin in decision-making, and James Sebenius in negotiations was instrumental in shaping today’s research on Human Behavior & Decision-Making.  The multi-disciplinary nature of our research brings together faculty from various academic units here at the business school as well as from Harvard Kennedy School, our economics and psychology departments, and other top-tier Universities.  We are continuously learning and bringing real-world experience to our research as we advise companies spanning a multitude of industries and governments across the globe.  Our research focuses on the individual and explores several topic areas such as: 
  • The influence of personal biases on judgment and decision-making
  • Cognition and learning processes
  • How the perception of self and others influences behavior and choices
  • The impact of ethics on moral judgment
  • How emotion-induced incentives drive motivation
Our collaborative studies are conducted both in the field as well as the laboratory. As an example, take Michael Norton of the School's Marketing unit and his large field experiment on over 350 visitors at an American amusement park ride and study of over 150 undergraduate students to investigate drivers of prosocial behavior, or Francesca Gino, of the Negotiations, Organizations & Markets unit, and her laboratory experiments on hundreds of University students to test the relationship between honesty and creativity.  As our research provides insights into the underpinnings behind how individuals and organizations think and behave, we are helping to improve the world's understanding of how to make individual and organizational decisions more productive and positive going into the future.
  1. Brand Tourists: How Non-Core Users Enhance the Brand Image by Eliciting Pride

    This research examines how core consumers of selective brands react when non-core users obtain access to the brand. Contrary to the view that non-core users and downward brand extensions pose a threat to the brand, this work investigates the conditions under which these non-core users enhance rather than dilute the brand image. A distinction between two types of non-core users based on how they are perceived by current users of core products is introduced: "brand immigrants" who claim to be part of the in-group of core users of the brand and "brand tourists" who do not claim any membership status to the brand community. A series of studies shows that core consumers respond positively to non-core users when they are perceived as brand tourists. The brand tourism effect is mediated by core users' pride and moderated by brand patriotism and selectiveness of the brand.

    Keywords: Consumer Behavior; Attitudes; Brands and Branding;


    Bellezza, Silvia, and Anat Keinan. "Brand Tourists: How Non-Core Users Enhance the Brand Image by Eliciting Pride." Journal of Consumer Research 41, no. 2 (August 2014): 397–417. View Details
  2. Learning from the Kursk Submarine Rescue Failure: the Case for Pluralistic Risk Management

    The Kursk, a Russian nuclear‐powered submarine, sank in the relatively shallow waters of the Barents Sea in August 2000 during a naval exercise. Numerous survivors were reported to be awaiting rescue, and within a week, an international rescue party gathered at the scene, which had seemingly possessed all that was needed for a successful rescue. Yet they failed to save anybody. Drawing on the recollections and daily situational reports of Commodore David Russell, who headed the Royal Navy’s rescue mission, and on Robert Moore’s (2002) award-winning book A Time to Die: The Kursk Disaster, the paper explores how and why this failure—a multiparty coordination failure—occurred. The Kursk rescue mission also illustrates a key issue in multiparty risk and disaster management, namely that the organizational challenge is to enable multiple actors and subunits with competing and often conflicting values and expertise to establish a virtual, well‐aligned organization. Organizational structures that can resolve evaluative dissonance, and processes that enable such a resolution, have been proposed in various literatures. Attempting to synthesize relevant works on pluralistic control and collaborative heterarchies, this paper proposes the foundations of what might be called pluralistic risk management, and it examines its conditions of possibility, in light of the lessons of the Kursk submarine rescue failure.


    Mikes, Anette, and Amram Migdal. "Learning from the Kursk Submarine Rescue Failure: the Case for Pluralistic Risk Management." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-003, July 2014. View Details
  3. Monitoring the Monitors: How Social Factors Influence Supply Chain Auditors

    Keywords: CSR; corporate accountability; corporate social responsibility; outsourced production; outsourcing; sustainability; Sustainability Management; auditing; audit quality; gender; conflicts of interest; bias; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Electronics Industry; Manufacturing Industry; China; India; Pakistan; Bangladesh; Mexico; Brazil; Viet Nam; Indonesia; Philippines; Sri Lanka; Taiwan; South Korea;


    Short, Jodi L., and Michael W. Toffel. "Monitoring the Monitors: How Social Factors Influence Supply Chain Auditors." Elevate Limited Webinar, July 17, 2014. (Webinar coordinated by Elevate Limited.) View Details
  4. Patent Trolls

    We provide theoretical and empirical evidence on the evolution and impact of non-practicing entities (NPEs) in the intellectual property space. Heterogeneity in innovation, given a cost of commercialization, results in NPEs that choose to act as "patent trolls" that chase operating firms' innovations even if those innovations are not clearly infringing on the NPEs' patents. We support these predictions using a novel, large dataset of patents targeted by NPEs. We show that NPEs on average target firms that are flush with cash (or have just had large positive cash shocks). Furthermore, NPEs target firm profits arising from exogenous cash shocks unrelated to the allegedly infringing patents. We next show that NPEs target firms irrespective of the closeness of those firms' patents to the NPEs', and that NPEs typically target firms that are busy with other (non-IP related) lawsuits or are likely to settle. Lastly, we show that NPE litigation has a negative real impact on the future innovative activity of targeted firms.

    Keywords: Patent trolls; NPEs; innovation; patents; Patents; Ethics; Lawsuits and Litigation; Innovation and Invention; Corporate Finance;


    Cohen, Lauren, Umit G. Gurun, and Scott Duke Kominers. "Patent Trolls." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-002, July 2014. View Details
  5. I'm Just Passionate!: Attributing Emotional Displays to Passion versus Emotionality

    People often express emotions at work that violate workplace display rules. In particular, expressing self-focused sadness is often viewed as inappropriate. Across three experimental studies, we find that the attributions that people make for their inappropriate emotional displays influence interpersonal perception and hiring decisions, and may shape the display rules themselves. In Study 1, we find that when a target attributed an incident of crying at work to passion, as compared to attributing it to emotionality or not making an attribution at all, it increased participants' perceptions of his or her work performance, competence, status, and dedication. In Study 2, we find that, when asked to recall a time when a co-worker cried or appeared upset at work, reflecting about how the emotional display demonstrates the co-worker's passionate nature (versus emotional nature) caused participants to rate the co-worker as a better performer, higher status, more competent, and more dedicated. In Study 3, we find that participants were more likely to hire a job candidate who, in the job interview, attributed a past incident of "getting choked up" to their passion than to their emotionality, and perceived the candidate as more competent and higher status. In addition to improving interpersonal perceptions, Studies 2 and 3 demonstrated that passion attributions also shifted people's implicit beliefs about emotional expression in the workplace broadly: workplace emotional expressions are considered more appropriate when emotional expressions were linked to passion than when they were linked to emotionality.

    Keywords: passion; Emotion; display rules; Emotions;


    Wolf, Elizabeth Baily, and Alison Wood Brooks. "I'm Just Passionate! Attributing Emotional Displays to Passion versus Emotionality." International Association for Conflict Management Annual Conference, Leiden, The Netherlands, July 4–7, 2014. View Details
  6. Decision Making Under Information Asymmetry: Experimental Evidence on Belief Refinements

    We explore how individuals make decisions in an operations management setting when there is information asymmetry between the firm and an outside investor. A common assumption in the signaling game literature is that beliefs among the participants in the game are refined using the Intuitive Criterion refinement. Our experimental results provide evidence that the predictive power of this refinement is quite low, and that the Undefeated refinement better captures actual choice behavior. This is surprising because the Intuitive Criterion refinement is the most commonly utilized belief refinement in the literature while the Undefeated refinement is rarely employed. Our results have material implications for both research and practice because the Undefeated and Intuitive Criterion refinements often produce divergent predictions. Our results demonstrate that conformance to the Undefeated and Intuitive Criterion refinements is influenced by changes in the underlying newsvendor model parameters. We also show that adherence to the Undefeated refinement is especially pronounced among subjects who report a high level of understanding of the game and that subjects whose choices conformed with the predictions of the Undefeated refinement were rewarded by investors with higher payoffs in the game. Finally, we demonstrate, through a reexamination of Cachon and Lariviere (2001), how the application of the Undefeated refinement can substantively extend the implications of extant signaling game theory in the operations management literature.

    Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions;


    Schmidt, William, and Ryan W. Buell. "Decision Making Under Information Asymmetry: Experimental Evidence on Belief Refinements." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-001, July 2014. View Details
  7. Past, Present and Future Research on Multiple Identities: Toward an Intrapersonal Network Approach

    Psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers have long recognized that people have multiple identities—based on attributes such as organizational membership, profession, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and family role(s) and that these multiple identities shape people's actions in organizations. The current organizational literature on multiple identities, however, is sparse and scattered and has yet to fully capture this foundational idea. I review and organize the literature on multiple identities into five different theoretical perspectives: social psychological; microsociological; psychodynamic and developmental; critical; and intersectional. I then propose a way to take research on multiple identities forward using an intrapersonal identity network approach. Moving to an identity network approach offers two advantages: first, it enables scholars to consider more than two identities simultaneously, and second, it helps scholars examine relationships among identities in greater detail. This is important because preliminary evidence suggests that multiple identities shape important outcomes in organizations, such as individual stress and well-being, intergroup conflict, performance, and change. By providing a way to investigate patterns of relationships among multiple identities, the identity network approach can help scholars deepen their understanding of the consequences of multiple identities in organizations and spark novel research questions in the organizational literature.


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi. "Past, Present and Future Research on Multiple Identities: Toward an Intrapersonal Network Approach." Academy of Management Annals 8, no. 1 (2014): 589–659. View Details
  8. Thought Calibration: How Thinking Just the Right Amount Increases One’s Influence and Appeal

    Previous research suggests that people draw inferences about their attitudes and preferences based on their own thoughtfulness. The current research explores how observing other individuals make decisions more or less thoughtfully can shape perceptions of those individuals and their decisions, and ultimately impact observers' willingness to be influenced by them. Three studies suggest that observing others make more (versus less) thoughtful decisions generates more positive reactions when a choice is difficult, but more negative reactions when a choice is easy. In essence, people perceive the quality of others' decisions to be greater when other individuals engage in the right amount of thinking for the situation. These assessments then affect observers' own decisions and openness to influence.

    Keywords: thoughtfulness; attitudes; liking; social influence; Decisions; Attitudes; Cognition and Thinking; Power and Influence;


    Kupor, Daniella, Zakary L. Tormala, Michael I. Norton, and Derek D. Rucker. "Thought Calibration: How Thinking Just the Right Amount Increases One’s Influence and Appeal." Social Psychological & Personality Science 5, no. 3 (April 2014): 263–270. View Details
  9. Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia

    We posit that household decision-making over fertility is characterized by moral hazard due to the fact that most contraception can only be perfectly observed by the woman. Using an experiment in Zambia that varied whether women were given access to contraceptives alone or with their husbands, we find that women given access with their husbands were 19% less likely to seek family planning services, 25% less likely to use concealable contraception, and 27% percent more likely to give birth. However, women given access to contraception alone report a lower subjective well-being, suggesting a psychosocial cost of making contraceptives more concealable.
    Click here to access the online appendix.

    Keywords: Partners and Partnerships; Health; Gender Characteristics; Household Characteristics; Zambia;


    Ashraf, Nava, Erica Field, and Jean Lee. "Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia." American Economic Review 104, no. 7 (July 2014). (Online Appendix.) View Details
  10. Becoming a First-Class Noticer: How to Spot and Prevent Ethical Failures in Your Organization

    We'd like to think that no smart, upstanding manager would ever overlook or turn a blind eye to threats or wrongdoing that ultimately imperil his or her business. Yet it happens all the time. We fall prey to obstacles that obscure or drown out important signals that things are amiss. Becoming a "first-class noticer," says Max Bazerman, requires conscious effort to fight ambiguity, motivated blindness, conflicts of interest, the slippery slope, and efforts of others to mislead us. As a manager, you can develop your noticing skills by acknowledging responsibility when things go wrong rather than blaming external forces beyond your control. Bazerman also advises taking an outsider's view to challenge the status quo. Given the string of ethical failures of corporations around the world in recent years—from BP to GM to JPMorgan Chase—it's clear that leaders not only need to act more responsibly themselves, but also must develop keen noticing skills in their employees and across their organizations.

    Keywords: accountability; Business ethics; Cognitive psychology; Human behavior; Personal ethics in business; Business or Company Management; Ethics;


    Bazerman, Max. "Becoming a First-Class Noticer: How to Spot and Prevent Ethical Failures in Your Organization." Harvard Business Review 92, nos. 7/8 (July–August 2014): 116–119. View Details
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