January 2020
An illustration of a grid of sad faces and cigarettes


Sadness: an addictive behavior trigger

What drives a person to smoke cigarettes—and keeps one out of six U.S. adults addicted to tobacco use, at a cost of 480,000 premature deaths each year despite decades of anti-smoking campaigns? What role do emotions play in this addictive behavior? A team of researchers based at Harvard Kennedy School now has fresh insights into these questions, thanks to a set of four interwoven studies described in a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team was overseen by senior co-author Jennifer Lerner, the Kennedy School’s Thornton F. Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management and co-founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory. The team’s studies show that sadness plays an especially strong role in triggering addictive behavior relative to other negative emotions like disgust. The studies range from analysis of data from a national survey of more than 10,000 people over 20 years to laboratory tests examining the responses of current smokers to negative emotions. One study tested the volume and frequency of actual puffs on cigarettes by smokers who volunteered to be monitored as they smoked. While drawing from methodologies from different fields, the four studies all reinforce the central finding that sadness, more than other negative emotions, increases people's craving to smoke. Lead author Charles A. Dorison, an HKS doctoral candidate, says the research could have useful public policy implications: For example, current anti-smoking ad campaigns could be redesigned to avoid images that trigger sadness and thus unintentionally increase cigarette cravings among smokers.


Car economy costs Massachusetts $64 billion annually

New research by Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, and a team of graduate students at Harvard Kennedy School puts a price tag—$64 billion a year—on all the public and private costs of keeping 4.5 million private passenger cars and light trucks on the road in Massachusetts. “Our work pulls together, for the first time, a comprehensive estimate of the full cost of the car economy in Massachusetts. The numbers are surprisingly high and should make us think twice about whether cars are the most cost-effective ways to connect,” said Bilmes. The cost of $64 billion includes the state-wide capital costs to the state, as well as costs to local cities and towns and social and economic costs, such as road congestion, injuries due to collisions and crashes, greenhouse gas emissions, and the land use value of parking lots. The study, funded by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, also considers costs to consumers who own and operate vehicles. The authors note that the cost of investments in public transportation projects should be compared to the full cost of building and maintaining roads and vehicles. Stevie Olson MPP 2020, a Kennedy School graduate student and the lead author of the report, noted: “Often, policymakers and the public confront huge price tags to update or expand public transportation systems. These costs are usually one-time investments. Our findings throw these estimates into perspective by providing a comparison of the annual costs of motor vehicle infrastructure.”


The ‘right’ coworkers can help you earn more money

New research by the Kennedy School’s Growth Lab examines the impact of teams and coworkers in shaping a person’s productivity, earning potential, and stays of employment. Analyzing data from Sweden, the research found that to earn high wages and returns on education, workers must find coworkers who complement their own skills rather than duplicate them. The paper, published in the journal Science Advances, comes from the Growth Lab, led by Ricardo Hausmann, the Rafiq Hariri Professor of the Practice of International Political Economy, and based in the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development. The research constructed networks of complementarity and substitutability among specific educational tracks to assess the importance of the skills of coworkers. It found that to earn high wages and returns on education, workers must find coworkers who complement them. The returns on having complementary coworkers are large: the impact is comparable to having a college degree. The study provides an online tool to assess the right and wrong coworkers in fields of expertise. The right coworkers are those with skills you lack that are needed to complete a team. The wrong coworkers are those who replicate your skillset and ultimately lower your value to the employer. For example, those with a degree in architecture are best complemented by workers with engineering, construction, or surveying degrees, and negatively impacted by those with landscape or interior design degrees. Research author Frank Neffke, Growth Lab research director, said, “One person’s skills connect to another person’s skills, and the better these connections, the more productive workers will be, and the more they will earn."


Joseph S. Nye Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, and former dean of the Kennedy School, discusses his new book, Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to TrumpWatch it now



25 years since U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations were restored. Read about HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf’s visit to Vietnam this month.


  • The U.S.-China relationship is at a crossroads [Joseph Nye] The National Interest

  • Attack on U.S. embassy in Iraq shows Trump is failing. He walked into Iran's trap. [Wendy Sherman] USA Today

  • Be kind when no one is looking [Jeffrey Seglin] NY Daily News

  • Deepfakes are a risk to 2020 elections, experts tell Congress [Joan Donovan] CNET

  • Trump’s Iran speech had three audiences [Meghan O'Sullivan] Bloomberg

  • Stepping back from the brink on Iran [Matthew Bunn] Boston Globe

  • We don’t need fewer entitlements for the middle class. We need more. [Lawrence Summers] Washington Post

  • Clever ideas for the next recession [Douglas Elmendorf, Karen Dynan, Lawrence Summers] Forbes


The brand new HKS Misinformation Review, published by the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, offers a new model for peer-reviewed, scholarly publications.

Content is produced and “fast-reviewed” by misinformation scientists and scholars, released under open access, and geared towards emphasizing real-world implications. All content is targeted towards a specialized audience of researchers, journalists, fact-checkers, educators, policymakers, and other practitioners working in the information, media, and platform landscape.

The principal investigator and co-editor is the Kennedy School’s Matthew A. Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications and Professor of Public Policy; the chief editor is Irene V. Pasquetto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Shorenstein Center and incoming assistant professor at the University of Michigan. Baum and Pasquetto describe the challenge this way: “The widespread adoption of digital media and information technologies made it exponentially easier and faster to produce, disseminate, and be exposed to false, manipulated, and sometimes hateful content. Still, misinformation is a complex, largely misunderstood phenomenon. The public, the media, and policymakers are in need of reliable, unbiased research on the prevalence, diffusion, and impact of misinformation worldwide.”

Read more about the journal.


In the latest episode of PolicyCast, Robert N. Stavins, the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School, reflects on the just-concluded UN climate policy summit in Madrid, where the parties made meagre progress toward a deal on how to manage the global market in carbon emissions. Listen now
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