Prof. Dr. Axel Ockenfels


Economist and Professor of experimental economic research and game theory

DAAD Scholarship 1996–1997

Prof. Dr. Axel  Ockenfels by Robert Poorten [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

How do people make economic decisions? Not as rationally, egoistically and as ruthlessly profit-oriented as might be expected of Homo oeconomicus. The Cologne-based economist Professor Axel Ockenfels analyses how fairness and reciprocity hold the economy together in its innermost folds. In his laboratory at the University of Cologne, which is made up of 32 networked computers, he studies economic decisions – the test participants “gamble”, in most cases with “real” money. Ockenfels’s main interest here focuses on the optimal arrangement of markets, starting with online markets and extending all the way through to complex energy and telecommunications markets. In this context he collaborates with researchers from neighbouring disciplines, including psychology, sociology and mathematics. His expertise in market design and behavioural economics is in demand from governments, market platforms and business.

Without the DAAD, my life would certainly have developed very differently.
Axel Ockenfels

Among other things, he concentrates on the Internet auctioneer eBay and carries out online auctions with his test subjects. The basis of his studies is provided by game theory in whose development his mentor, Reinhard Selten, the only German Nobel Laureate for Economics, played a decisive part. Ockenfels examines which “rules of the game” lead to efficient auction results. “Seemingly minor mistakes in market design can lead to dramatic results. “Both through his work on eBay and through his studies on the influence of social interaction on markets, Ockenfels, who was born in Bonn in 1969, found himself at the centre of public interest. In 2005 he was the first economist for 17 years to receive the most important and most highly endowed German research award, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. The Hermann-Heinrich-Gossen Prize awarded by the Verein für Socialpolitik followed in 2006. And in 2007, Ockenfels was one of the last laureates of the now discontinued Philip Morris Foundation Research Prize.

Ockenfels laid the foundation stone for his meteoric research career by studying economics at the University of Bonn. In 1996–1997 he did research at Penn State University with the help of a DAAD scholarship. After gaining his doctorate on the Nature of Fair Behaviour at the University of Magdeburg, he went to the United States again for a year, this time to the distinguished Harvard Business School. This was followed in 2002 by his habilitation (venia legendi) on the topic of Individual decision making and the design of economic institutions at the University of Magdeburg. Despite all the offers he has received at home and abroad, he decided to take up a professorship in political economy at the University of Cologne in 2003, where he was the founding director of the Laboratory for Economic Research and has been chair of the Center for Social and Economic Behavior (C-SEB) since 2015. In addition, the economist coordinates the international and interdisciplinary DFG research group on "Design & Behavior". Axel Ockenfels also advises the Federal Government: he has been a member of the Academic Advisory Board to the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy since 2010.