Jeroen van de Ven was appointed professor of Information, Communication & Strategic Interaction at Amsterdam School of Economics this past June. He tells us about his background and his reasons for choosing this field of research.
In terms of research I’ve focused on studying communication. We knew that communication plays a very important role. If participants in an experiment have the chance to talk with each other, even for a moment, they are much more likely to be cooperative. Something we needed to study further was why communication was so important and under what circumstances. Is what the other person is saying important? Or is it about what you are saying because you don’t want to mislead others? We’re talking about communication in the broadest sense of the word, both verbal and non-verbal. Looking back, this theme has always been present in my research. In one of my first experiments we used data from a game show to study how well people could judge whether a contestant would be cooperative. We asked our participants to predict what the contestant would do. In more recent research (with Theo Offerman and Matthijs van Veelen) we looked at whether people could judge who would become angry if they received a poor offer.
I’ve been interested in behavioural economics since I was a doctoral candidate, and I was inspired by the research being conducted by psychologists. Insights obtained from the field of psychology were not always taken on board with economics theories, but microeconomics can help us better understand the findings of psychologists. And we only need to slightly adjust our models to do this. A good example is how psychologists have discovered that rewards can sometimes discourage people. Standard microeconomics didn’t predict this, but economists Bénabou (Princeton University) and Tirole (Toulouse School of Economics) showed in their work how we could effectively use the microeconomics models once a few minor adjustments were made. A reward could convey information as to the difficulty of the task. A big reward implies a difficult task and could therefore have a discouraging effect.
In addition to communication, I’ve also worked on other subjects. One of them is ‘Theory of Mind’, the ability to understand that other people have different information or preferences. Most children know this from a young age. Together with other researchers, we show how children from families with a relatively low socioeconomic status have lower scores in this area. However, it appears that it is possible to encourage these children to think about things from someone else’s perspective. This has an impact on society because Theory of Mind is probably a very important aspect in social interaction.
I’m going to continue focusing on communication. There’s still so much we don’t know. I’ve set up a special communication lab for this purpose together with my ASE colleagues Carsten de Dreu, Theo Offerman and Uri Gneezy.