Christian T. Elbæk receives the Aarhus University Research Foundation PhD Award

Assistant Professor Christian T. Elbæk from the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS is one of five recipients of Aarhus University's PhD Award in 2024. He is being given the award for his research into the topic: Moralitet i forbindelse med ressourceknaphed (the morality of resource scarcity). With his research, he has demonstrated that there is a positive correlation between people's moral decisions and their experience of resource scarcity, and this knowledge can help break down prejudices.

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Christian T. Elbæk Photo: AU Photo

Christian’s interest in both economics and psychology began when he was a student. He decided to carry out a meta-study as part of his PhD dissertation to investigate how people's experience of scarcity can have negative effects, both behaviourally and cognitively.

It turned out that experiencing limited resources does not always, as previously assumed, affect us morally in relation to our decision-making. In fact, our decisions depend on the time horizon.

"An acute situation can cause us to cheat for personal gains, but if the situation is chronic and not acute, the literature does not show such an effect," says Christian T. Elbæk.

The next step was to test the findings using empirical studies, but, surprisingly, the results did not turn out as he expected:

"My research designs were more advanced and robust than previous studies. And the results indicated that acute scarcity does not increase people's propensity to cheat," says Christian T. Elbæk.

However, what is just as interesting is that his third and most comprehensive study, with more than 50,000 respondents from 67 countries, indicated that people who experience chronic resource scarcity seem to place greater importance on moral principles.

"Using advanced statistical methods, we were able to show that respondents who rank themselves as having scarce resources place greater emphasis on making moral choices than people with more resources. This is in line with previous behavioural science research, which has indicated that people with scarce resources need to be more aware of their environment and fellow human beings because they are much more dependent on help from others. So, our findings help break down destructive stereotypes that people with fewer resources are unethical," Christian hopes.

As an assistant professor at Aarhus BSS, Christian T. Elbæk will now continue his research within this area.

Register for the awards ceremony on 29 May

Read about other award winners

Hear Christian T. Elbæk talk about his research

Facts about the PhD award

  • The Aarhus University Research Foundation first awarded its annual PhD award in 2003 in connection with the university’s 75th anniversary.
  • The graduate schools at Aarhus University nominate a number of candidates based on recommendations from the faculties. The senior management team and the Research Foundation then make the final decision.
  • All recipients completed their PhD in the previous year, in this case in 2023.
  • The award includes a cash prize of DKK 50,000

Further information

Christian Truelsen Elbæk
Department of Management
Aarhus BSS
Tel.: +45 8716 4945
Mobile: +45 2013 1623