Einstein Questionnaire

Bertil Tungodden


Please close your eyes and think about your research project. What do you see at first?

I see people arguing about how to divide some money. In all spheres of life, we face the key question: how should limited resources be divided among people. I am interested in understanding people’s moral views on this issue, since I believe that these views are critical for understanding human behavior in a wide range of situations


How would you explain your research to a child?

We do a lot of research on children, since I believe that childhood is a critical period for shaping our moral views. Therefore, we often interact with children. To illustrate my research, I tell them to think about a situation where two children have done some work, but where one was lucky and earned some money and the other was unlucky and did not get anything. I then ask them whether they would redistribute from the lucky to the unlucky if they had the opportunity to do so. This gets them thinking about what is fair and from there we can start discussing what a just society is.

What is it that surprises people when you tell them about your research? 

I think people are surprised to hear that we do not have a good understanding of the idea of personal responsibility. It is one of the most dominant moral ideals in the Western world, but people interpret this notion very differently. Our research shows that we often appeal to the idea of personal responsibility in situations where it hardly can be justified. For example, we have shown in experiments that people hold others responsible for nominal or forced choices, which is very surprising for many.  

With whom would you like to swap your workplace for one day? What would you do?

I would certainly like to swap workplace with the president of the United States for one day, mainly to get a better understanding of what is really happening in this powerful room. But to be honest, my favourite would be to swap with Jürgen Klopp and be the coach of Liverpool - or even better, work for one day together with him to understand how he manages to build such fantastic teams.

Is there any rather unusual hobby or talent you might want to share with us?

My passion is fishing. Tungodden, where my family comes from, is a small fishing community in the western part of Norway, and every summer I spend a lot of time there at my cabin. Peaceful days that allow me to nurture the simple pleasure of preparing bone-free fish fillets. 


What did your research teach you about life?

My research has made me even more convinced that moral motivation is critical for understanding human behaviour. For a long time economists only focused on self-interest, which indeed is of great importance, but I believe that our urge to be moral is an equally strong driver of our choices. I think this is a very important lesson for life.


What would your job be, if not a scientist? 
If I had the talent, I would be a football player. On a more serious note, I would have liked to be a politician, to play a role in working out the actual policies that are critical for our societies.


Is there any particular object that follows you through work and/or life? 

Not really, but I need coffee - both at work and more generally in daily life. I try to cut down on my coffee consumption, but the first cup in the morning is invaluable.

Which place in Berlin do you like the most, and why?

This must be the Atze Musiktheater, since they made a show of my brother Tore Tungodden's book: Die Ministerpräsidentin. It is a great book for children about the importance of engaging in politics, and my brother was very happy with the show. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen it, hopefully there will be an opportunity in the near future.

Is there anything about Berlin that you didn’t expect at all? And/or something that you miss here? What makes Berlin special for your research?

I love Berlin. It is such a vibrant city, it truly inspires me. It also gives me the opportunity to work with some outstanding behavioral economists, I very much look forward to the coming years at Humboldt-Universität.


August 2019