Applying Social Science Insights to Improve Public Health

Date: Friday, April 11, 2014
Time: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Location: Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, 9 Bow Street, Cambridge (Directions)

Overview and goals of the workshop:

Although the social sciences have been studying decision making for decades, the field of public health has been slow to incorporate these insights into interventions. One way to intervene is by changing the context in which people make decisions. The goal is to “nudge” people to make decisions they want to make and that can improve their well-beingThis argument, known as “libertarian paternalism,”suggests that private institutions and the government should nudge citizens toward making better decisions, rather than forcing certain outcomes.  Today, as ”nudging” finds its way deeper into discourses on public health, it invites a great deal of enthusiasm as well as criticism. Some argue that nudge strategies are ideal because they preserve freedom, while others argue that focusing on nudges will stymie pursuit of more aggressive policies that can produce real change.

This workshop will bring together a diverse group of academics to:

  1. present new research on judgment and decision making that has clear applications to public health
  2. discuss how insights from social science can inform private and public interventions
  3. debate the strengths and limitations of using “nudge” approaches to promote health

Faculty Conveners


To be determined.

Speakers and participants

  • Jason Block, Associate Director of the Obesity Prevention Program in the Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Zoe Chance, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Yale School of Management
  • William Dow, Henry J. Kaiser Professor of Health Economics, School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley
  • Rebecca Ferrer, Program Director, Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch, National Cancer Institute
  • Leslie John, Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Marketing Unit, Harvard Business School
  • David Laibson, Professor of Economics, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Brent McFerran, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
  • Michael Norton, Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Marketing Unit, Harvard Business School
  • Jason Riis, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Marketing Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
  • Todd Rogers, Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Peter Ubel, Professor of Business Administration & Medicine and Professor of Public Policy, Duke University 
  • Kevin Volpp, Professor of Medicine and Health Care Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
  • Brian Wansink, John Dyson Endowed Chair, Applied Economics and Management Department, Cornell University
  • Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business, University of Southern California
  • Frederick Zimmerman, Chair of the Department of Health Policy & Management, Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA

A list of PUBLICATIONS relevant to this workshop will be available closer to the workshop date.

This workshop is full. If you are interested in being added to the waiting list,  please email