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. Labor, Capital, and Government: The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902

    David Moss and Marc Campasano

    In late October 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt felt relieved after months of anxiety and uncertainty. Workers in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal industry had been on strike for five months, threatening to leave eastern cities in the cold without enough heating fuel for the winter. Anthracite workers and business owners had finally reached an agreement after months of stalemate, and anthracite production resumed on October 23. The agreement—the first of its kind—put decision-making power in the hands of a federal commission, appointed by the president and empowered to determine terms of employment and various operational questions in the anthracite region. After a week-long investigation in the mines, the commission began hearing testimony from hundreds of representatives of the workers and their employers, the mine operators. The hearings finally closed in February 1903, after which the commission began formulating its final judgments. Members of the commission knew that their work would set an important precedent for industrial governance in the years ahead. Past U.S. presidents had helped put down strikes that threatened federal property or public safety, but the anthracite strike of 1902 marked the first time the government acted to resolve a strike both without force and without such a clear legal justification. The decisions of the commission would therefore have important ramifications not only for the anthracite industry, but potentially for American business–labor relations more generally. With copious amounts of data, testimony, and research to inform them, the commission members began the process of deciding how an American industry should, and would, operate.


    Moss, David, and Marc Campasano. "Labor, Capital, and Government: The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902." Harvard Business School Case 716-046, February 2016. View Details
  2. Democracy and Women's Rights in America: The Fight over the ERA

    David Moss, Amy Smekar, Dean Grodzins, Rachel Wilf and Marc Campasano

    On the afternoon of June 21, 1982, the Florida Senate prepared to vote on whether to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, which stated that “Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Supporters believed the ERA was essential to winning equal rights for women. Opponents claimed that the proposed amendment would dangerously expand federal power over the states, remove needed protections for women, and undermine the American family.
    When Congress had sent the ERA to the states for ratification, in March 1972, it had done so through a joint resolution stipulating that state legislatures had to ratify it within seven years. As the deadline neared, however, only 35 of the requisite 38 states had voted to ratify the amendment, four of which later voted to rescind ratification, though ERA supporters questioned the constitutionality of rescission. In October 1978, Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, a move that ERA opponents denounced as unconstitutional. Over the next several years, one more state voted to rescind, and no new states ratified.
    In 1982, ERA supporters made a final push for ratification. That June, the governor of Florida, an ERA supporter, called the state legislature into special session to consider, among other issues, approval of the ERA. If Florida ratified, supporters hoped that Illinois and either Oklahoma or North Carolina would quickly follow. On June 21, thousands of demonstrators, both for and against the amendment, converged on the state capitol in Tallahassee. That morning, the Florida House voted in favor of the ERA, 60 to 58. Now it was up to the Florida Senate to decide whether to ratify the amendment or to kill it.

    Keywords: Rights; Government Legislation; Gender; Public Administration Industry; Florida;


    Moss, David, Amy Smekar, Dean Grodzins, Rachel Wilf, and Marc Campasano. "Democracy and Women's Rights in America: The Fight over the ERA." Harvard Business School Case 716-041, February 2016. View Details
  3. Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Black Voting Rights

    David Moss and Dean Grodzins

    In January 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most prominent leader of the civil rights movement in the United States, launched a campaign of civil disobedience in Selma, Alabama, to bring national attention to disenfranchisement of black voters in the South. On Sunday, March 7, as part of this campaign, 400 mostly black protesters, not including King, tried to march across the Pettus Bridge, just outside Selma, only to be stopped by state troopers and local lawmen, who attacked them with tear gas and clubs. That night, all three national television networks broadcast film of the assault. The broadcasts sparked outrage against the attackers and sympathy protests across the country. King announced that he would lead a renewed march over the bridge on Tuesday, March 9.
    By early Tuesday morning, however, King had learned that President Lyndon Johnson, whose help he needed to win federal voting rights legislation, did not want him to march, and that a federal judge had issued a restraining order against the march until a hearing could be held. King thought his supporters' passions were so strong that he might not be able to cancel the march even if he wanted to, yet the modern civil rights movement had never before defied a federal court order. President Johnson's representatives told King that he might avoid violating the judge's order if he marched to the bridge and then turned around before crossing it. King did not say what he would do, however, and few of his supporters knew about the turnaround possibility.
    Several hours later, with television cameras recording the unfolding events, King led 2000 marchers to the bridge, where state troopers and lawmen waited. Should he try to turn the march around, which his followers might not accept, or try to cross the bridge, contrary to the president's wishes and a federal restraining order?

    Keywords: Rights; Voting; Race; Government and Politics; Conflict and Resolution; Alabama;


    Moss, David, and Dean Grodzins. "Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Black Voting Rights." Harvard Business School Case 716-042, February 2016. View Details
  4. Equal Opportunity? Gender Gaps in CEO Appointments and Executive Pay

    Matti Keloharju, Samuli Knüpfer and Joacim Tåg

    This paper uses exceptionally rich data on Swedish corporate executives and their personal characteristics to study gender gaps in CEO appointments and pay. Both gaps are sizeable: 18% for CEO appointments and 27% for pay. At most one-eight of the gaps can be attributed to observable gender differences in executives’ and their firms’ characteristics. Further tests suggest that unobservable gender differences in characteristics are unlikely to account for the remaining gaps. Instead, our results are consistent with the view that male and female executives sharing equal attributes neither have equal opportunities to reach the top, nor are they equally paid.


    Keloharju, Matti, Samuli Knüpfer, and Joacim Tåg. "Equal Opportunity? Gender Gaps in CEO Appointments and Executive Pay." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-092, February 2016. View Details
  5. Moving Forward

    George Serafeim

    Commerce, the synthesis of entrepreneurship and business, has been one of the most powerful institutions the world has ever seen. Commerce unlocks the highest human potential for creativity, innovation and discovery.

    Keywords: Change; change management; leadership; Europe; turnaround; Management Practices and Processes; Leadership; Change Management; Management Practices and Processes; Entrepreneurship; Europe;


    Serafeim, George. "Moving Forward." Business Partners 15, no. 82 (January–February 2016): 38–39. View Details
  6. Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst

    Leslie K. John, Kate Barasz and Michael I. Norton

    Seven experiments explore people's decisions to share or withhold personal information, and the wisdom of such decisions. When people choose not to reveal information—to be "hiders"—they are judged negatively by others (experiment 1). These negative judgments emerge when hiding is volitional (experiments 2A and 2B) and are driven by decreases in trustworthiness engendered by decisions to hide (experiments 3A and 3B). Moreover, hiders do not intuit these negative consequences: given the choice to withhold or reveal unsavory information, people often choose to withhold, but observers rate those who reveal even questionable behavior more positively (experiments 4A and 4B). The negative impact of hiding holds whether opting not to disclose unflattering (drug use, poor grades, and sexually transmitted diseases) or flattering (blood donations) information, and across decisions ranging from whom to date to whom to hire. When faced with decisions about disclosure, decision-makers should be aware not just of the risk of revealing, but of what hiding reveals.

    Keywords: disclosure; transparency; trust; policy-making; privacy; Decisions; Trust;


    John, Leslie K., Kate Barasz, and Michael I. Norton. "Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, no. 4 (January 26, 2016): 954–959. View Details
  7. IKEA in Saudi Arabia (A)

    Karthik Ramanna and Jérôme Lenhardt

    A Swedish newspaper reveals that IKEA has erased all images of women from its catalog for Saudi Arabia. The article sparks criticism of IKEA from the Swedish government and its customers in the West. Critics contend that IKEA is not living up to its own commitments to gender equality. Some threaten a boycott. IKEA must respond. Reissuing the catalog with women included risks running afoul of Saudi censors who can impose harsh penalties. The company has had a presence in Saudi Arabia for nearly 30 years.

    Keywords: corporate values; leadership; religion; Islam; multinationals; globalization; Europe; Sweden; Saudi Arabia; Middle East;


    Ramanna, Karthik, and Jérôme Lenhardt. "IKEA in Saudi Arabia (A)." Harvard Business School Case 116-015, January 2016. View Details
  8. SAP SE: Autism at Work

    Gary P. Pisano and Robert D. Austin

    This case describes SAP's "Autism at Work" program, which integrates people with autism into the company's workforce. The company has a stated objective of making 1% of its workforce people with autism by 2020. SAP's rationale for the program is based on the belief that "neurodiversity" contributes to the company's overall innovative capabilities ("We believe that innovation comes from the edges"). Thus, the program is not viewed as a subsidized Corporate Social Responsibility activity, but as a positive net benefit activity, as well as a way of addressing skills shortages by tapping into non-traditional pools of (considerable) talent. The case explores how SAP is also using the program to rethink and re-engineer its Human Resource Management policies and processes, to make them more inclusive and effective.

    Keywords: software; human resource management; Diversity Management; Germany; Germany;


    Pisano, Gary P., and Robert D. Austin. "SAP SE: Autism at Work." Harvard Business School Case 616-042, January 2016. View Details
  9. Do Interactions with Candidates Increase Voter Support and Participation? Experimental Evidence from Italy

    Enrico Cantoni and Vincent Pons

    We test whether politicians can use direct contact to reconnect with citizens, increase turnout, and win votes. During the 2014 Italian municipal elections, we randomly assigned 26,000 voters to receive visits from city council candidates, from canvassers supporting the candidates' party list or to a control group. While canvassers' visits increased turnout by 1.8 percentage points, candidates had no impact on participation. Candidates increased their own vote share in the precincts they canvassed, but only at the expense of their running mates. This suggests that their failure to mobilize nonvoters resulted from focusing on securing the preferences of active voters.

    Keywords: Voting; Italy;


    Cantoni, Enrico, and Vincent Pons. "Do Interactions with Candidates Increase Voter Support and Participation? Experimental Evidence from Italy." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-080, January 2016. View Details
  10. Commuting with a Plan: How Goal-Directed Prospection Can Offset the Strain of Commuting

    Jon M. Jachimowicz, Julia J. Lee, Bradley R. Staats, Jochen I. Menges and Francesca Gino

    To get to work, employees need to commute. Across the globe, the average commute is 38 minutes each way per day. It is well known that longer commutes have negative effects on employees’ well-being and job-related outcomes. Yet, commuting may not similarly affect all employees, since some of them may naturally engage in behaviors to offset the negative effects of longer commutes. Drawing on psychological research on self-control, we theorize how engaging in future-oriented thinking about the tasks to complete during the workday (i.e., goal-directed prospection) while commuting to work influences work outcomes. Across two field studies and one field experiment, we find that individuals higher in trait self-control are less likely to report negative effects of longer commutes. While commuting, individuals with higher trait self-control engage in goal-directed prospection, partially offsetting the strain of commuting. In a field experiment, individuals asked to engage in goal-directed prospecting during commuting reported higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of emotional exhaustion. Although commuting is typically seen as the least desirable part of an employee’s day, our theory and results point to the benefits of viewing it as a useful time period to engage in goal-directed prospection.

    Keywords: commuting; prospection; Job satisfaction; emotional exhaustion; self-control; Satisfaction; Personal Development and Career; Performance; Transportation; Emotions; Cognition and Thinking;


    Jachimowicz, Jon M., Julia J. Lee, Bradley R. Staats, Jochen I. Menges, and Francesca Gino. "Commuting with a Plan: How Goal-Directed Prospection Can Offset the Strain of Commuting." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-077, January 2016. View Details
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