Inside the ‘Homo Oeconomicus Brain’: Towards a Reform of the Economics Curriculum?

Journal of Business Ethics Education 11 (2014); 1-36.

40 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2014 Last revised: 7 Jul 2015

Date Written: August 21, 2014


Economics students and economists have – grosso modo – a bad societal reputation. This is, roughly speaking, the provocative result of the majority of empirical studies on economic education. On average, economists and economics students behave in a more self-interested way than others; they are more prone to deviate from the moral good; they tend to free ride more often and invest less in public goods games; they are more corrupt and less honest in lost letter experiments, less cooperative in solidarity games, and accept less and keep more in ultimatum bargaining games. In short: they seem to behave more in accordance with the predictions of the rational or self-interest model of standard economics, the Homo oeconomicus model. What might be the reasons that the degree of anti-social and uncooperative behavior is on average significantly more pronounced among economics students compared to other student groups? Can these empirical findings be explained by the self-selection effect and/or the indoctrination effect? What are the implications of these empirical results for economic ethics and economic education? Which roles do the economics curriculum and economic textbooks play? Do they have any effect on everyday behavior? Is the way economics is taught at (business) schools, colleges and universities co-responsible for the considerable behavioral differences? And what can be done in order to reverse these trends and to foster other-regarding preferences and pro-social behavior? The paper analyzes these and other questions with the help of experimental economics, behavioral economics and neuroeconomics. It also draws on recent findings of brain physiology research in general and neuroplasticity in particular.

Keywords: homo oeconomicus; self-selection vs. indoctrination hypothesis; economic education; economics curriculum; neuroscience; brain plasticity

Suggested Citation

Wörsdörfer, Manuel, Inside the ‘Homo Oeconomicus Brain’: Towards a Reform of the Economics Curriculum? (August 21, 2014). Journal of Business Ethics Education 11 (2014); 1-36., Available at SSRN:

Manuel Wörsdörfer (Contact Author)

University of Maine ( email )

Orono, ME 04469
United States

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