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. Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills

    Joseph B. Fuller

    The market for middle-skills jobs—those that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree—is consistently failing to clear. That failure is inflicting a grievous cost on the competitiveness of American firms and on the standard of living of American workers. How can business lead the charge to close the gap?
  2. JBS

    David E. Bell

    JBS is a Brazilian protein company that started in beef, but has quickly expanded into pork and chicken, and around the world. The company has many critics who say it has expanded too quickly and that it is overextended financially. The case allows the reader to form their own opinion and consider whether the success/failure of the company is due to the personal style of the CEO, Wesley Batista. A current issue is the recent expansion of the company into value-added protein products in a division called JBS Foods.

    Keywords: Protein; Beef; Brazil; Prepared Foods; Agribusiness; Agriculture;


    Bell, David E. "JBS." Harvard Business School Case 515-066, December 2014. View Details
  3. DaVita HealthCare Partners and the Denver Public Schools: Creating Connections

    John J-H Kim and Christine S. An

    In 2011, DaVita HealthCare Partners (DaVita)—a Fortune 500 healthcare services company specializing in kidney dialysis services—and the Denver Public Schools (DPS)—the largest school district in Colorado—forged a plan to incorporate greater intentional focus on culture and leadership within the district. A few months into the 2013-2014 school year, DaVita "Mayor" Kent Thiry, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, and members of their teams gather to review and assess the overall progress, impact, and challenges of their unique corporate-community partnership focused on leadership development and culture over the past two years. With the partnership showing great promise, Thiry and his team wonder how they might create new partnerships and grow their social impact as a company without detracting from DaVita's own growth and expansion and the needs of its own "teammates." The case gives students the opportunity to explore how a mission-driven Fortune 500 company can leverage its own resources and HR expertise to partner with non-corporate entities to create social value and support success in American public education.

    Keywords: corporate-community partnerships; k-12; school districts; DaVita; Kent Thiry; Tom Boasberg; Denver Public Schools; Wisdom Team; DaVita Way; Creating Connections; Social Enterpreise; leadership development; community impact; education reform; public schools; culture; Leadership Development; Partners and Partnerships; Social Entrepreneurship; Business Education; Medical Specialties; Business and Community Relations; Culture; Health Industry; Colorado;


    Kim, John J-H, and Christine S. An. "DaVita HealthCare Partners and the Denver Public Schools: Creating Connections." Harvard Business School Case 315-047, December 2014. View Details
  4. Team Reflexivity as an Antidote to Team Information Processing Failures

    Michaela C. Schippers, Amy C. Edmondson and Michael A. West

    This article proposes that team reflexivity—a deliberate process of discussing team goals, processes, or outcomes—can function as an antidote to team-level biases and errors in decision making. We build on prior work conceptualizing teams as information-processing systems and highlight reflexivity as a critical information-processing activity. Prior research has identified consequential information-processing failures that occur in small groups, such as the failure to discuss privately held relevant information, biased processing of information, and failure to update conclusions when situations change. We propose that team reflexivity reduces the occurrence of information-processing failures by ensuring that teams discuss and assess the implications of team information for team goals, processes, and outcomes. In this article, we present a model of team information-processing failures and remedies involving team reflexivity, and we discuss the conditions under which team reflexivity is and is not likely to facilitate performance.

    Keywords: team reflexivity; team information-processesing failures; team regulatory processes; team learning; Groups and Teams; Knowledge Management;


    Schippers, Michaela C., Amy C. Edmondson, and Michael A. West. "Team Reflexivity as an Antidote to Team Information Processing Failures." Small Group Research 45, no. 6 (December 2014): 731–769. View Details
  5. Rethink What You 'Know' about High-Achieving Women

    R. Ely, Pamela Stone and Colleen Ammerman

    On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to Harvard Business School's MBA program, the authors, who have spent more than 20 years studying professional women, set out to learn what HBS graduates had to say about work and family and how their experiences, attitudes, and decisions might shed light on prevailing controversies. What their comprehensive survey revealed suggests that the conventional wisdom about women's careers doesn't always square with reality. The survey showed, for instance, that 1) the highly educated, ambitious women and men of HBS don't differ much in terms of what they value and hope for in their lives and careers; 2) it simply isn't true that a large proportion of HBS alumnae have "opted out" to care for children; 3) going part-time or taking a career break to care for children doesn't explain the gender gap in senior management; and 4) the vast majority of women anticipated that their careers would rank equally with those of their partners. Many of them were disappointed. It is now time, the authors write, for companies to consider how they can institutionalize a level playing field for all employees, including caregivers of both genders. The misguided assumption that high-potential women are "riskier" hires than their male peers because they are apt to discard their careers after parenthood has become yet another bias for women to contend with.


    Ely, R., Pamela Stone, and Colleen Ammerman. "Rethink What You 'Know' about High-Achieving Women." Harvard Business Review 92, no. 12 (December 2014): 100–109. View Details
  6. Dylan Pierce at Hanguk Industries

    Karthik Ramanna

    Hanguk Industries' U.S. country manager, Peter Lee, has a problem—his star hire, Dylan Pierce, is threatening to quit. Hanguk is a large Korean conglomerate multinational that has been keen to attract foreigners. Dylan was hired by Peter to work in Hanguk's U.S. operations. After 18 months, Dylan was promoted to company HQ in Seoul, to work with Peter's former boss. Dylan, who is gay and who thrived at Hanguk's California office, quickly runs afoul of the conservative culture at Hanguk's Korean HQ. Dylan's boss in Korea tells him he needs to be less "girly" if he wants to succeed at the company. Angered, humiliated, and confused, Dylan tells Peter he's ready to quit. Peter must respond.

    Keywords: leadership; multinational corporation; multicultural teams; diversity; Leadership; Diversity Characteristics; Electronics Industry; Korean Peninsula; United States;


    Ramanna, Karthik. "Dylan Pierce at Hanguk Industries." Harvard Business School Case 115-024, December 2014. View Details
  7. Napalm: From Soldiers Field to Trang Bang

    Tom Nicholas and Jonas Peter Akins

    Napalm is one of the most destructive weapons ever to be invented. Yet, at its original inception it was nothing more than a technical challenge, and it was never intended to be used in indiscriminate antipersonnel warfare. The pathway of its development by a Harvard research scientist to its use in flamethrowers by U.S. ground troops in World War Two, and as an incendiary device during the Vietnam War (1959-75) was unanticipated. Many of the early technical challenges associated with Napalm were solved by experimentation under the guidance of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), created to coordinate scientific research into the problems of modern warfare. Because the government needed private contractors to manufacture Napalm, it turned to several companies with experience in chemicals manufacturing. One in particular—The Dow Chemical Company—bore the brunt of the moral opprobrium association with the production of Napalm.

    Keywords: Moral Sensibility; War; Chemicals; Research and Development; Chemical Industry; Viet Nam; Cambridge; United States;


    Nicholas, Tom, and Jonas Peter Akins. "Napalm: From Soldiers Field to Trang Bang." Harvard Business School Case 815-060, November 2014. View Details
  8. Pride to Cooperate: The Consideration of Pride Promotes Cooperation in a Social Dilemma

    Anna Dorfman, Tal Eyal and Yoella Bereby-Meyer

    In social dilemmas, broad collective interests conflict with immediate self-interests. In two studies, we examine the role of pride in guiding cooperative behavior in a social dilemma. We find that the consideration of pride led to more cooperation compared to the consideration of joy or a control condition (Study 1) and compared to the consideration of enjoyment (Study 2). The importance participants assigned to cooperation mediated this effect of emotion on cooperation (Studies 1 and 3). We suggest that because pride is linked to pro-social behavior, considering pride activates the concept of pride which in turn makes related behavioral representations more accessible and thus increases cooperation.

    Keywords: social dilemma; cooperation; pride; joy; social emotions;


    Dorfman, Anna, Tal Eyal, and Yoella Bereby-Meyer. "Pride to Cooperate: The Consideration of Pride Promotes Cooperation in a Social Dilemma." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 55 (November 2014): 105–109. View Details
  9. The Allure of Unknown Outcomes: Exploring the Role of Uncertainty in the Preference for Potential

    Daniella Kupor, Zakary L. Tormala and Michael I. Norton

    Influence practitioners often highlight a target's achievements (e.g., "she is the city's top-rated chef"), but recent research reveals that highlighting a target's potential (e.g., "she could become the city's top-rated chef") can be more effective. We examine whether the uncertainty inherent in potential is crucial to its appeal by exploring whether the preference for potential depends on individual and situational differences in tolerance for uncertainty. In two studies in two different categories (comedians and restaurants), we measure and manipulate tolerance for uncertainty to show that the preference for potential emerges when tolerance for uncertainty is high but not low. We further show that the uncertainty surrounding potential fosters greater interest and deeper processing when tolerance for uncertainty is high, which in turn promotes more favorable reactions. Thus, the current research reveals when and why emphasizing potential is more effective than emphasizing achievement, illuminating the key role of uncertainty in driving this effect.

    Keywords: Risk and Uncertainty; Forecasting and Prediction; Performance Evaluation;


    Kupor, Daniella, Zakary L. Tormala, and Michael I. Norton. "The Allure of Unknown Outcomes: Exploring the Role of Uncertainty in the Preference for Potential." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 55 (November 2014): 210–216. View Details
  10. The Language of Global Management

    Tsedal Neeley

    Now in its third edition, this multi-volume Encyclopedia of Management has been revised and updated to chart the major developments that have occurred in digital technologies, ethics and governance-related issues, innovation, emerging markets, organizational networks, and new avenues of sustainable business growth. Providing comprehensive coverage of the field of management, the encyclopedia spans fourteen subject volumes providing a landmark work of reference for scholars, students, and professionals. In addition to two entirely new volumes (on Technology & Innovation and Management Research Methodology), the 14-volume encyclopedia now offers users a fully searchable online resource linked to the wider literature and to an associated database of handbooks and journals in the field.

    Keywords: Networks; Governance; Technology; Management; Ethics; Emerging Markets; Innovation and Invention;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "The Language of Global Management." In Wiley Encyclopedia of Management. 3rd ed. Edited by Cary L. Cooper. John Wiley & Sons, 2014. View Details
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