Ward Edwards

April 5, 1927 – February 1, 2005

Brief Biography

Edwards Fellow Portrait

Ward Edwards was a Frank P. Ramsey medalist known for his prominent work in decision theory and the formulation of behavioral decision analysis. Born in 1927 in Morristown, New Jersey, Edwards attended Swarthmore College prior to pursuing graduate level psychology at Harvard University. He taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Michigan, and eventually settled at the University of Southern California. For twenty-two years, he directed the university’s Social Science Research Institute as a professor of psychology and of industrial and systems engineering. Edwards retired from USC in 1995.

Early in his career, Edwards developed an interest in understanding how people make decisions. In the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, he wrote a series of articles on the theory of decision making, incorporating the behaviors of individuals involved. These publications were instrumental in establishing the field of behavioral decision research, which has since been applied to a number of areas including economics and finance. In 1962, Edwards founded the Bayesian Research Conference with the aim to incorporate and apply Bayesian statistical methods and ideas to decision theory. The meeting was a success as he went on to lead its successors for the next four decades.

In 1968, Edwards defined a basic paradigm for studying the psychology of judgement using Bayesian statistical inference. His approach was adopted by many leading psychologists of the time including future Nobel Prize laureate, Daniel Kahneman. In the 1970s, Edwards began to look at social utilities and how to use their measurement for social decision making. While he was enthusiastic about then-recent developments in the field of multi-attribute utility theory, he believed that the leading literature on the subject, namely from Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa, could be made more useful by applying techniques well known in psychophysics.  This led to the development and application of several versions of his SMART method (Simple Multiattribute Rating Technique). Recognizing his significant contributions to multiple areas of decision analysis, the Decision Analysis Society (DAS) awarded Edwards with its highest honor, the Ramsey Medal,  in 1988.

Edwards was an active leader in the professional community of decision researchers. In the mid-1990s, he served as president of the Decision Analysis Society, overseeing its move under the umbrella of the newly-formed Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). Edwards was a genuine and vocal advocate for the journal, Decision Analysis, which was established in 2004, the same year he was elected an INFORMS Fellow. After a long struggle with Parkinson’s diseases, he passed away at age seventy-seven on February 1, 2005. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Ward Edwards

Phillips L. D. & von Winterfeldt D. (2006) Reflections on the contributions of Ward Edwards to decision analysis and behavioral research. Operational Research Working Papers, LSEO 06.86. Operations Research Group, London School of Economics: London. (link)

Shanteau J. B., Mellers B. A., Schum D. A. (1999) Decision Science and Technology: Reflections on the Contributions of Ward Edwards. Kluwer Academic Publishers: Boston, MA. 


Swarthmore College, BS

Harvard University, MS & PhD 


Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas
  • Weather 

Oral Histories

Detlof von Winterfeldt interviews Ward Edwards (2005).  Recorded at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.  Accessed December 22, 2016 (link)


Clemen R. T. & Kleinmuntz D. N. (2005) From the Editors...Remembering Ward Edwards. Decision Analysis, 2(1): 1-3. (link)

USC Dornsife News. Passings: Ward Edwards. Published February 2005. Accessed May 31, 2015. (link)


Ward Edwards Papers, Collection no. 0327, University Archives, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California. (link)

Awards and Honors

Frank P. Ramsey Medal 1988

APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award in Applied Psychology 1996

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2004

Professional Service

Decision Analysis Society, 1994-1996

Selected Publications

Edwards W. (1954) The theory of decision making. Psychological Bulletin, 51(4): 380-417.

Edwards W. (1961) Behavioral decision theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 12(1): 473-498.

Edwards W., Lindman H., & Savage J. (1963) Bayesian statistical inference for psychological research. Psychological Review, 70(1): 193-242.

Edwards, W, Phillips, L.D., Hays, W.L., & Goodman, B.C. (1968) Probabilistic information processing systems: Design and evaluation. IEEE Transactions on Systems Science and Cybernetics, 4(2): 248-265.

Edwards W. (1971) Social utilities. Engineering Economist, Summer Symposium Series, 6:119-129.

Edwards W. (1977) How to use multiattribute utility measurement for social decision making. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, 7: 326-340.

Edwards W. (1980) Reflections on and criticism of a highly political multiattribute utility analysis. Cobb LL & Thrall M., eds. in Mathematical Frontiers of Behavioral and Social Sciences, 157-186. Westview Prases,: Boulder, CO.

Edwards W. & von Winterfeldt D. (1986) Decision Analysis and Behavioral Research. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

Edwards W. & von Winterfeldt D. (1987) Public values in risk debates. Risk Analysis, 7(1):141-158.

Abramson B., Brown,J., Edwards W., Murphy A. H., & Winkler R. L. (1996) HAILFINDER: A Bayesian system for predicting extreme weather. International Journal of Forecasting, 7(1): 57-78.