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Prof. Dr.

Ernst Fehr

Year of election: 2002
Section: Economics and Empirical Social Sciences
City: Zurich
Country: Switzerland
CV Ernst Fehr - Deutsch (pdf)
CV Ernst Fehr - English (PDF)


Main areas of research: Experimental, Behavioural and Neuroeconomics; Fairness and Reciprocity

Ernst Fehr is an Austrian economist and specialist in behavioural economics. He has been able to show through extensive empirical studies that people are in no way as rational and self-serving as the standard “Homo Economicus” model assumes. His work was instrumental in affecting a fundamental change in economic thought.

Fairness, altruism or the desire for compensatory justice: Phenomena like these that serve to humanize social interactions have until recently been almost completely ignored by economic theories. Ernst Fehr criticizes the neoclassical dogma of the consistent rational behaviour of a “Homo Economicus” that is exclusively driven by the principle of personal gain and utility maximization. In doing so, he was instrumental in affecting a fundamental transformation that today is referred to as the “psychological shift in economics." Fehr was able to demonstrate in numerous behavioural studies that humans are in no way only governed by the pursuit of material gains when acting as economic subjects but rather often undertake to attain a fair balance of interests even when it is disadvantageous to themselves. He is intensely interested in the role that the principle of solidarity plays in economic decisions and in the cooperation found in small groups. In addition to laboratory experiments, Fehr carries out controlled field studies as well. During tests with indigenous peoples from the Amazon basin and Papua New Guinea he explored the extent to which “fair” conduct or sanctions against anti-social contemporaries are culturally determined. In order to track down the evolutionary roots of cooperation and “pro-social behaviour”, he organized experiments with children and chimpanzees. His institute has acquired its own brain scanner to facilitate his investigations into the neurobiological bases of human behaviour.

As a wanderer between different worlds, Ernst Fehr has succeeded in bridging such diverse disciplines as economics, sociology, psychology, biology, ethnology and neuroscience. His insights into the basics of human social behaviour help explain why the real economy oftentimes acts differently from the ways found in many economic textbooks. This work has also led Fehr to derive practical recommendations for influencing human behaviour not only by utilizing prohibitions or monetary incentives but also by more subtle psychological mechanisms.

In 2016, Ernst Fehr held the top spot on lists from the FAZ, NZZ and Austrian “Press” ranking the most influential economists in German speaking countries. In 2008 he was the first economist to be awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize, which is often described as the “Swiss Nobel Prize”. This international recognition translated into numerous expressions of interest from renowned universities, including Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, New York University, Cambridge University and Oxford University. His continued presence at his Zurich location for more than two decades has led to its becoming a centre of modern experimental economic research.


  • since 2012 Director of the newly founded UBS International Center of Economics in Society at the University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • since 2011 Global Distinguished Professor for Economics at New York University, USA
  • 2010-2015 Director of the newly created Department of Economics at the University of Zurich (Deputy Director since 2015)
  • 2010 Co-founder of the Consultancy Group FehrAdvice & Partners in Zurich
  • 2005-2012 Head of the University of Zurich research programme “Foundations of Human Social Behavior”
  • 2004-2009 Fellow at the Collegium Helveticum
  • 2003-2011 Faculty member at the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA
  • 2002-2006 External faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute, USA
  • 1999-2010 Director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • since 1994 Full professor of Microeconomics and Experimental Economics at the University of Zürich
  • 1993-2006 Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research in Economic Growth, Vienna
  • 1991-1994 Associate professor at the Institute of Economics and Economic Policy at the Technische Universität Wien (Vienna)
  • 1991 Habilitation at the Technische Universität Wien (Vienna)
  • 1988-1989 Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
  • 1986 Doctorate at the Technische Universität Wien (Vienna)
  • 1982-1991 Research assistant at the Institute of Economics and Economic Policy at the TU Wien (Vienna)
  • 1980-1982 Research assistant at the University of Vienna
  • 1975-1980 Studied economics at the University of Vienna
  • 1970-1975 Business College in Bregenz, Austria


  • since 2011 President of the board of the Excellence Foundation Zurich for Economic and Social Research
  • 2008 President of the European Economic Association (EEA)
  • 2003-2005 President of the Economic Science Association (ESA)


  • 2013-2016 Project by UNICEF Switzerland “The Abandonment of Harmful Social Norms: Improving Children’s Rights with Evidence-Based Research”
  • 2013-2016 Project of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) “Neuroeconomics of value-based decision making“
  • since 2012 European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant “Foundations of Economic Preferences”
  • since 2012 SNF project “The Distribution and Determinants of Social Preferences”
  • 2010-2014 SNF project “The Social Dynamics of Normative Behaviour: Population Fragmentation and Divergent Cultural Evolution”
  • 2009-2013 SNF project “Individual heterogeneity and social interaction”
  • 2009-2012 SNF project „Understanding Trust. Foundations, Forms and Limits of Trust"
  • 2008-2013 SNF project “SystemsX, Neural Correlates of collective decision making: from molecules to minds”
  • 2007-2010 European Research Council (ERC) project “Explaining Religion”
  • 2006-2011 SNF project “The Foundations of Human Prosociality – Social Preferences in Marmosets, Chimpanzees and Children”
  • 2005-2013 SNF project “NCCR Affective Sciences”
  • 2004-2006 SNF project “The Effects of Loss Aversion and Social Preferences on Economic Incentives”
  • 2004-2006 SNF project “European Wages and Employment under Low Inflation”
  • 2004-2007 “ENABLE: European Network for the Advancement of Behavioural Economics”
  • 2003-2004 SNF project “The Economics and Psychology of Incentives”
  • 1998-2001 “European Network for the Development of Experimental Economics”
  • 1998-2001 SNF project “Nominal Rigidity and Neutrality of Money”
  • 1995-2005 Network on Economic Environments and the Evolution of Individual Preferences and Social Norms, MacArthur Foundation, Chicago
  • 1995-1998 SNF project “The Effect of Social Norms on Wages and Employment. A Theoretical and Experimental Analysis”
  • 1993-1996 Austrian Science Fund project “Involuntary Unemployment as an Equilibrium Phenomenon”

Honours and Memberships

  • since 2016 Corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • 2014 Gutenberg Research Award
  • 2013 Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize
  • 2012 Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Arts
  • since 2011 OLB Foundation Fellowship at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study), Delmenhorst
  • 2011 Vorarlberger Wissenschaftspreis (Science Prize of the State of Vorarlberg, Austria)
  • 2010 German Fairness Prize
  • 2010 Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art
  • 2010 Gustav Stolper Prize from Vereins für Socialpolitik (German Economic Association)
  • since 2009 Fellow at the Association for Psychological Science
  • since 2009 Member of the Academia Europaea (Academy of Europe)
  • 2009 Honorary doctorate from the University of Lugano
  • 2009 Honorary doctorate from the University of Lausanne
  • 2008 John Kenneth Galbraith Fellow at the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences
  • since 2008 Member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences
  • since 2008 Fellow at the Econometric Society
  • 2008 Marcel Benoist Prize
  • 2008 Honorary doctorate from the University of Munich
  • since 2007 Honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2004 Cogito Prize
  • 2004 Honorary doctorate from the University of St. Gallen
  • since 2002 Member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
  • 2000 Hicks-Tinbergen Medal from the European Economic Association
  • 1999 Gossen Prize from the German Economic Association




Emil-Abderhalden-Str. 35
06108 Halle (Saale)

Phone 0345 - 47 239 - 122
Fax 0345 - 47 239 - 139
E-Mail archiv @leopoldina.org

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