As a proud College of Arts and Sciences student, I’ve always kind of rebuffed the Wharton School. No offense, but all the number crunching, money mongering and competition of the business world just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But when I heard about behavioral investing — a field of commerce that traverses the fields of psychology and finance — I was impressed. I was shocked to find myself, for the first time ever, thinking that i-banking might actually be pretty cool.
It likely comes as no surprise that I’m absolutely crazy about the idea of integrating the behavioral sciences with the study of finance. Then again, as a hardcore science enthusiast, I’m pretty much crazy about integrating science with just about anything.
When you look at the growing popularity and success of behavioral investing, you can really start to see my point. Knowing a bit about the human-life sciences can give you an upper hand when it comes to just about any field that has anything to do with people.
So, I ask, why isn’t everybody rushing to sign up for a course or two about human biology?
In the case of behavioral investing, some diehard finance aficionados out there might think that the pairing of hardcore commerce and softcore psych is a useless combo — but when you think about it, using the principles of behavioral science to approach investing is a no-brainer.
Griffin Rotman, an economics major and College senior, has never studied human behavior (with the slight exception of introductory psych freshman year) but thinks that doing so would be a good reality check for someone like himself. “Taking a course about human behavior would give you an opportunity to see if your instincts align with what is the true sentiment,” he said.
And he’s right. Despite the phenomenon that being in Wharton can make you feel like a god, the truth is, investment bankers are just people. Believe it or not, like normal people, investment bankers are subject to natural human behavior, which can stand in the way of success in the business world.
Things like being afraid of loss, being overly optimistic and retreating when defeated are traits that served us well 200,000 years ago when we were still hunter-gatherers. But, in our modern-day world of money, stocks and other forms of intangible value, our natural instincts tend to make us make bad decisions.
Behavioral investing says that if we understand the science behind human decision making, we can stop our inner-caveman instincts from making bone-headed decisions in the stock market.
If understanding human behavior can make us better investors, could it also make us better historians? Politicians? Writers? Philosophers? Educators? The answer is yes.
Humans are humans, no matter how you look at them. Whether you’re interacting with them personally, studying them 1,000 years after their death or developing a fictional character, it helps to understand basic patterns and anomalies of why we behave and think the way we do.
But in order to really integrate two fields, we need people who have truly mastered both domains. Wharton has a behavioral lab and offers undergraduates a couple of courses that look at behavioral investing, and a few departments in the College offer courses that consider the “biological contributions” to different phenomena, like crime or gender differences. Although these efforts are a start, they barely skim the surface of what we need. When you get down to it, there are just not enough opportunities out there for people to integrate science into their respective fields of study.
So Penn, and the rest of the world, consider the example set by the success of behavioral investing. It looks like people would be better off if they knew a little bit of science.
Sally Engelhart is a College junior from Toronto. Her e-mail address is engelhart@theDP.com. Scientifically Blonde appears on alternate Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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