University of Cologne

Excellence Center for Social and Economic Behavior  

The Center for Social and Economic Behavior (C-SEB) at the University of Cologne (UoC) brings together Cologne-based researchers from economics, management science, and psychology. Together with internationally renowned scientists from Europe and the USA, they investigate the fundamental principles and behavioral mechanisms that affect social and economic behavior. Since its establishment in 2019, the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute is an important partner.

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Social and economic behavior is shaping almost all aspects of our lives. But it does not only influence the actions of individuals. Behavior and its underlying motivation and cognition, also affects the success of societies, politics, markets and organizations. Understanding its determinants, and how it can be ‘managed’, is thus of crucial importance for understanding and addressing major challenges to society and humanity.

C-SEB aims to develop an empirically based theory of the institutions that define economic incentives and of the conditions that influence information processing in social and economic contexts. Using a behavioral economics and social cognition approach, the center examines how these mechanisms can be designed and manipulated. C-SEB seeks to build a bridge between laboratory research and real-world contexts in order to contribute to solutions to contemporary challenges in the economy.

Our Aims

Scientific exchange

C-SEB runs various programs to create a productive research environment and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists. In order to foster communication across disciplines and research units, the center regularly organizes workshops and conferences with international guests.
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Research funding

C-SEB provides funding for outstanding individuals and excellent collaborative research projects in the field of behavioral economics and social cognition. There are six funding lines at the moment that are designed to serve different purposes and target groups.
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Equal opportunity & junior researcher promotion

C-SEB is strongly committed to promote equal opportunities in academia and to advance the careers of junior researchers. The center assists its members with career planning and with reconciling academic and family life.
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Press Releases

This year, the University of Cologne awarded seven scientists their Future Prizes for outstanding scientific achievements in the last six …

The Nobel Prize for Economics 2020 was awarded in equal parts to Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson “for …

C-SEB economist Prof. Dr. Axel Ockenfels is involved in various working groups of the academy project “Energy Systems of the …

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In the media

ntv – Podcast “Ja. Nein. Vielleicht.”, 12.11.2020 | Axel Ockenfels – Interview von Verena Utikal

“Paul Milgrom und Robert Wilson haben in diesem Jahr den Wirtschaftsnobelpreis gewonnen, weil sie die Auktionstheorie “verbessert” und “neue Formate für Versteigerungen” entwickelt haben, so die Begründung der schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Aber was bedeutet es, die Auktionstheorie zu “verbessern”? Darüber spricht Verhaltensökonomin Verena Utikal mit Axel Ockenfels von der Universität zu Köln.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24.10.2020 | Philip Plickert

“Im Kampf gegen das Coronavirus und zur Entwicklung eines Impfstoffes bereitet Großbritannien erstmals einen Test mit jungen Freiwilligen vor, die sich absichtlich mit dem Virus anstecken lassen. […] Auch das Thema Bezahlung für die Ansteckungsversuche ist unter Medizinethikern ein Streitpunkt. […] Dazu hat der Kölner Verhaltensökonom Axel Ockenfels gemeinsam mit Sandro Ambuehl und dem Ökonomie-Nobelpreisträger Alvin Roth geforscht.”

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Ambuehl, S., Ockenfels, A., & Roth, A. E. 2020.

“Payment in challenge studies from an economics perspective.” Journal of Medical Ethics.

Engel, C., & Ockenfels, A. 2020.

“Maverick: Experimentally Testing a Conjecture of the Antitrust Authorities.” Advances in the Sociology of Trust and Cooperation: Theory, Experiments, and Field Studies, 357-390.
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Current research topics at C-SEB

Are people selfish and rational?

Individuals often have to decide whether to act compliant to rules or to seek their own advantage. Unethical or unfair actions, such as lying or cheating, can lead to disadvantages for others and affect economic life. Many persons are honest in such situations and waive their personal advantage, which for example could be achieved by lying. Other individuals, however, behave immorally when it benefits them. Whether a person behaves fair or not depends on a variety of social and economic factors, but generally on their personality and biographical experiences.

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Why do markets fail, and how can we repair them?

Markets are places where supply and demand meet according to certain rules. However, errors in market order or irrational behavior of market participants can lead to a malfunction or complete collapse of the distribution of goods in financial, labor, consumer and other markets. Since the effects of such crises can have disastrous consequences, it is important to design markets and other economic institutions on the basis of sound behavior research. In this process incentives for market participants are set in such a way that they achieve their goals and make the market work.

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How to design climate negotiations that work?

During the last 150 years the average global temperature has risen sharply caused by the increased release of greenhouse gases by humans. As global warming carries high risks for the environment and human life, it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But so far, the countries were not successful in agreeing on a common climate target. To guide the climate negotiations to success, participants must be encouraged to make commitments. One requirement for this is a fair distribution of financial compensations between poor and rich countries through transfer payments. Such compensation can be achieved for example by introducing a global CO2 price that countries can implement through measures suited to their respective situation.

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When do we trust in others?

Trust in the honesty of another person is an essential prerequisite for social and economic interaction. Without trust fair and reliable socializing would be difficult to imagine. The extent to which we trust other people depends on a variety of factors, in particular on our assessment of the situation and how we perceive the other person. People who can look back on common positive experiences or who can identify with the values, goals and needs of their partner, trust each other more than people who do not know each other or who perceive themselves as being different.

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Why do we compare with others?

The knowledge of one’s own abilities is of great importance, not only in sports, but in many areas of work and everyday life. People can assess their performance through comparing themselves to others. Only by interrelating their own abilities and achievements to those of other individuals, their meaning can be determined. It surely can be painful, if somebody is better. But it can also provide us with valuable information about what we can do better and motivate us to make greater efforts.

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How can we resist temptations?

Often, our long-term goals, such as a healthy diet, are in conflict with short-term temptations like a delicious dessert. Whether we manage to resist these temptations depends on a variety of personal and situational factors. Thus, a social environment that encourages steadfastness can be of great help, whereas intoxicants like alcohol make a loss of control more likely. Psychological factors such as strength of will and frustration tolerance play a role as well. The easiest way to resist temptations is to avoid such situations from the outset.

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