‘Irrational thinking’ researcher Prof. Dan Ariely receives RSM Honorary Doctorate

A stirring and thought-provoking ceremony marked the 103rd Dies Natalis or anniversary celebrations for Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) on Tuesday, 8 November. The annual event had an academic theme: ‘consumer behaviour in the digital economy’, as well as being a celebration. Two prominent American researchers in the field of marketing science, professors Dan Ariely and John Hauser, were granted honorary doctorates by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) respectively. Each presented some of their research on the event’s theme of ‘Consumer behaviour in the digital economy’.

RSM’s Professor Ale Smidts of RSM gave the laudatio for Professor Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business, before bestowing the honour of an Honorary Doctorate upon him. Ariely had spent the previous day hosting a unique business seminar about dishonest behaviour in business, presenting some of his innovative research on consumer decision-making.

Ariely has studied the irrationality of behaviour – individuals’ failure to act in accordance with their best interests – during 20 years of research, and has made great advances in the understanding of human behaviour, said Prof. Smidts. He is known as a speaker, writer, mentor and a consultant, and has the rare status in science of a scientist lauded in not only the academic community but also in the wider world too. Ariely’s work has scientific excellence and impact.

The pain of paying

In a lively short lecture, Prof. Ariely gave examples of his research into the irrationality of behaviour and decision-making, using anecdotes about the pain of paying, how to manage ourselves better to accept delayed gratification, and successful incentives to encourage low-income families to save for a rainy day, among others. “The economics perspective on life is kind of depressing,” Ariely admitted. “But the good news is that the world has a population of 7.5 billion irrational people so there is still room for improvement!”

Increase rational thinking

Ariely intends to increase rational thinking. “It’s up to us to decide what kind of technology we want to build – the kind for spending now, or for saving now and living according to long term well-being? I sincerely hope is the second,” he concluded.

The 103rd Dies Natalis ceremony

Ariely’s oration was part of the 2016 Dies Natalis ceremony, which was opened by EUR’s President of the Executive Board, Kristel Baele. She was followed by Rector Magnificus of the university, Professor Huibert Pols, who said that science is no longer the individual pursuit of knowledge. Scientific progress is made in an international arena as a team sport, and we need to ‘play well together’. The world is much bigger than this campus, and we must connect and make connections.

Flourishing together – three Erasmus Initiatives

Prof. Pols announced three new Erasmus Initiatives; multi-disciplinary projects called ‘Smarter choices for better health’, ‘Vital cities and citizens’, and ‘Inclusive growth’. They connect disciplines; researchers must connect and spread their new multidisciplinary knowledge, he said.

The EUR Executive Board will invest €4.2 million in each of the Erasmus Initiatives over next four years, €12.6 million in total. The initiative is supported by every faculty in EUR, and benefits from a co-operation with the Erasmus Trust Fund to prepare a campaign, the first in the Netherlands to establish a significant fund to support excellence in future leaders.

Not building walls

“We will ensure and enhance our future as university that is a working environment connected to the challenges of our changing society,” said Prof. Pols. There are bridges to be built and initiatives are an ongoing process, said the rector. Referring to the American presidential election taking place on the same day as the Dies Natalis, the rector said: “The American people chose today whether to be stronger together or to build the wall. Here at EUR, choice is clear. We will be stronger if we work together, not by building walls.”

Neelie Kroes – ‘excellent and capable women’

Guest speaker was Neelie Kroes, Chair of the Public Policy Advisory Board of Uber, a former European Commissioner for Competition and for Digital Agenda, and an alumna of EUR. First, she commended the Rector Magnificus to involve women in the execution of the three new Erasmus Initiatives. “You have excellent and capable women within the university,” she said. She went on to speak about digital inclusiveness.

Neglecting the community

The realm of digital knowledge in the fourth industrial revolution gave us a ‘inclusiveness of knowledge’, but it also created deep feeling of uncertainty over the role of globalisation. We have crossed a line in recent weeks, she said, since ‘Putin became more trustworthy than a Democrat’. The fourth industrial revolution continues the trend of putting the brakes on; the less-informed masses continue to put their own short-term interests forward.

“A consequence of the fourth industrial revolution is that your initiatives are unwittingly handed over to algorithms and business models belonging to powerful global players.” “Politicians can’t influence this any more – it now has a life of its own,” said Neelie Kroes. “Trump says ‘back to the mines’ and ‘back to manual labour’. Come on Trump, you’re kidding!” she exclaimed. Even though the US has followed developments, the realities of the fourth industrial revolution have not yet trickled down into policy there.

In Europe, the challenge presented by the fourth industrial revolution is not to fall into a trap of more and faster innovation. The gap between citizens, consumers, voters and technological advances must be bridged. Connections must be meaningful and should offer inclusiveness, instead of exclusivity, and digital empowerment to all layers of society. Government needs to update itself quickly, as Neelie Kroes put it, they need to ‘download another way of thinking’. Politics and business have ignored this for too long, she warned.

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Prof. John Hauser
Professor John Hauser, the Kirin Professor of Marketing at MIT’s Sloan School of Management was presented with an Honorary Doctorate by Prof. Stefan Stremersch from ESE, who said Prof. Hauser has made an outstanding contribution to marketing, investigating marketing phenomena and seeking synergies across fields and audiences. “He has translated it into long-lasting impact for students and broad partnerships with industry.”

Prof. Hauser said ESE and RSM have each made seminal contributions to marketing science and will continue to do so. “As far as I know, EUR is the only university in the world with two world class marketing schools. He described his own work as: “providing new insights that will be simple and will shift paradigms. The next generation will bring them to us.”

Athena Award – Saskia Krijger

Concluding the Dies Natalis, Prof. Huibert Pols and Prof. Hanneke Takkenberg, EUR’s Chief Diversity Officer, presented the ENVH Athena Award to Saskia Krijger, head of Strategic Policy and HRM at ESE, recognising her effort in creating opportunities for women and encouraging women to take advantage of those opportunities. The 103rd Dies Natalis ceremony concluded with a reception.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s leading research-based business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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