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. Team Reflexivity as an Antidote to Team Information Processing Failures

    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;


    Schippers, M., Amy C. Edmondson, and M.A. West. "Team Reflexivity as an Antidote to Team Information Processing Failures." Small Group Behavior 45, no. 6 (December 2014): 731–769. View Details
  2. Napalm: From Soldiers Field to Trang Bang

    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
  3. Pride to Cooperate: The Consideration of Pride Promotes Cooperation in a Social Dilemma

    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
  4. The Allure of Unknown Outcomes: Exploring the Role of Uncertainty in the Preference for Potential

    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
  5. The Language of Global Management

    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
  6. Crony Capitalism, American Style: What Are We Talking About Here?

    This paper seeks to reduce the ambiguity surrounding our understanding of what crony capitalism is, what it is not, what costs crony capitalism leaves in its wake, and how we might contain it.

    Keywords: democracy; industrial governance; institutional corruption; crony capitalism; lobbying; campaign finance; costs; cronyism; Business ethics; campaign finance reform; revolving door; Economic Systems; Ethics; Political Elections; Financing and Loans; United States;


    Salter, Malcolm S. "Crony Capitalism, American Style: What Are We Talking About Here?" Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-025, October 2014. View Details
  7. Do Experts or Collective Intelligence Write with More Bias? Evidence from Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia

    Which source of information contains greater bias and slant—text written by an expert or that constructed via collective intelligence? Do the costs of acquiring, storing, displaying and revising information shape those differences? We evaluate these questions empirically by examining slanted and biased phrases in content on US political issues from two sources—Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia. Our overall slant measure is less (more) than zero when an article leans towards Democrat (Republican) viewpoints, while bias is the absolute value of the slant. Using a matched sample of pairs of articles from Britannica and Wikipedia, we show that, overall, Wikipedia articles are more slanted towards Democrat than Britannica articles, as well as more biased. Slanted Wikipedia articles tend to become less biased than Britannica articles on the same topic as they become substantially revised, and the bias on a per word basis hardly differs between the sources. These results have implications for the segregation of readers in online sources and the allocation of editorial resources in online sources using collective intelligence.

    Keywords: Information; Prejudice and Bias; Online Technology;


    Greenstein, Shane, and Feng Zhu. "Do Experts or Collective Intelligence Write with More Bias? Evidence from Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-023, October 2014. View Details
  8. Caesars Entertainment

    This case describes the introduction of a regression analysis model for forecasting guest arrivals to Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The company will use the forecast to staff the front desk in the hotel. The staff is unionized and the company has little flexibility to change staffing levels on a short term basis. The case is set in the context of industry overcapacity and lower customer demand.

    The case describes several models that could be used to forecast guest arrivals, including a moving average technique and a multiple regression model. The multiple regression model includes over 40 independent variables, including dummy variables (e.g., to represent day of week, month, year, holidays, paydays) as well as continuous variables to represent customer segment and average daily room rate. The case contains tables showing the output of the regression model, and compares the fit of the moving average and regression models. The case allows students to understand how such a model is developed within an organization and to evaluate the models presented. Students may work with a data file with several years of historical data or they may work with the model description and output results in the case.

    Keywords: Forecasting; staffing; gaming; gaming industry; hotel industry; Decision Making; Forecasting and Prediction; Human Resources; Selection and Staffing; Entertainment; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Operations; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Accommodations Industry; Travel Industry; Tourism Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Las Vegas;


    Hammond, Janice H., and Aldo Sesia. "Caesars Entertainment." Harvard Business School Case 615-031, October 2014. View Details
  9. Teckentrup: A Door to Managing Difference

    For Kai Teckentrup, the owner and co-CEO of the German "Mittelstand" door manufacturer Teckentrup, balancing competitive pressures, demographic realities and values were at the heart of the diversity program that he had started and championed at the company. Beyond this, attracting skilled workers to Germany was a national imperative; as the native population aged and its numbers in the workforce shrank, it would be critical to find new workers to fund and maintain the retirement and social service programs provided by the government. The company had made significant progress, and Kai was a recognized leader in German business for his attention to and success in managing diversity, but he knew there was much more to do.

    Keywords: Diversity Management; "Corporate Values," Manufacturing Industry, Competitiveness, Demographics; Change Management; Transformation; Diversity Characteristics; Ethnicity Characteristics; Gender Characteristics; Literacy Characteristics; Nationality Characteristics; Race Characteristics; Residency Characteristics; Corporate Accountability; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Organizational Culture; Economic Growth; Fairness; Moral Sensibility; Values and Beliefs; Immigration; Employee Relationship Management; Civil Society or Community; Manufacturing Industry; Construction Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Europe; Germany; Russia; Turkey;


    Rose, Clayton, Jerome Lenhardt, and Daniela Beyersdorfer. "Teckentrup: A Door to Managing Difference." Harvard Business School Case 315-016, October 2014. View Details
  10. IDEO: Human-Centered Design

    The case describes IDEO, one of the world’s leading design firms, and its human-centered innovation culture and processes. It is an example of what managers can do to make their own organizations more innovative. In reaction to a rapidly changing competitive landscape, a team of IDEO designers have been hired by Cineplanet, the leading movie cinema chain in Peru, to reinvent the movie going experience for Peruvians. Cineplanet wishes to better align their operating model with the needs and behaviors of its customers.

    Keywords: design thinking; innovation; service delivery; service management; service; Design; Service Delivery; Innovation and Management; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Peru;


    Buell, Ryan W., and Andrew Otazo. "IDEO: Human-Centered Design." Harvard Business School Case 615-022, October 2014. View Details
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