Israeli Professor Daniel Kahneman will receive the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his advances in psychology of economics.

Currently a Princeton University faculty member, Professor Kahneman previously won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000. According to the trailblazing technology, entertainment, and design website, Kahneman is “widely regarded as the world’s most influential living psychologist … for his pioneering work in behavioral economics — exploring the irrational ways we make decisions about risk.” Similarly, Foreign Policy magazine named Kahneman one of the worlds top 50 thinkers in 2011, with the White House dubbing him  a “pioneering scholar” of psychology.

“After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research,” a White House statement said.

In partnership with Dr. Tversky, Kahneman developed prospect theory, which uses distinctions between perceived value and actual value to explain bad decisions that could have been easily avoided, such as unwise purchases. His New York Times best seller “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow” summarizes this work and was honored with the National Academy of Sciences Communication Award for the best book published in 2011.

With regard to Kahneman’s most recent accolade, President Obama said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”  

Kahneman responded, “This is a great honor. I am completely surprised. It is a medal that only very few civilians, who are not presidents, receive. The chance of receiving such an honor is the same as being struck by lightning.” He added that the idea behind this medal, in his opinion, is “American” in its democratic spirit. “The idea is that there are several ways to contribute to democracy.”

Princeton psychology department chair Deborah Prentice said she was delighted that Kahneman would be honored. She added, “Danny was also one of the first to see the enormous potential for behavioral-science research to improve public policy. “Here at Princeton,” Prentice said, “he created and co-taught the first course on behavioral policy and championed the appointment of many talented behavioral scientists to faculty positions in the Woodrow Wilson School. Behavioral approaches are now gaining in prominence in policy schools, think-tanks, and government agencies, thanks in large part to Danny.”

Among the 16 people receiving the award this year are former president Bill Clinton, feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem and the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a staunch supporter of Israel. The awards will be presented later this year. Past Israeli recipients of the award include President Shimon Peres and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky. Established by President John Kennedy in 1963,  the Presidential Medal of Freedom is, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

By Rachel Avraham & Eitan Press, staff writers for United With Israel