Bonobos, Pasteur’s Quadrant, and Quentin Tarantino: A Conversation with Bram Van den Bergh
Updated: Oct 30
Written by Jareef Martuza, Ph.D. candidate at the Norwegian School of Economics
Bram Van den Bergh, IJRM AE, shares his early influences, editorial advice, and wisdom in slowing down.
I first met Bram Van den Bergh at the 2023 La Londe conference. Approachable, witty, and present- most would have fun talking to him, whether in person on the French Riviera or virtually on Zoom. What struck me first about Bram was how he interacted with presenters, asking questions that make you think and see your work in a new light. He was very much the same person at social gatherings as well. What you saw was what you got: contagious curiosity meets wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Bram Van den Bergh is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Bram obtained his PhD at the KU Leuven in Belgium in 2009 and he’s been at RSM since then. He studies the fundamental drivers of human behavior and has been an Associate Editor with the IJRM for a year.
I usually research the background of Professors before talking to them, to get a feel for their work and interests. While doing that, Bram’s Google Scholar caught me off guard. His research covered extremely diverse topics that ranged from Prisoner’s Dilemma Games to testosterone and disaster aid. So, I immediately knew that his background and interests would make for an exciting interviewee. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.
Take us through how you started your journey as a marketing scholar
“My journey as a researcher began quite unexpectedly. I was studying cognitive psychology, and my master's thesis supervisor, a professor in a business school, asked me if I'd be interested in continuing with research and perhaps starting a Ph.D. It was never really a plan to become a researcher or professor, it just happened.”
Bram was inspired by biological thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond, and he carried this fascination into his research. “I wrote my thesis on biological influences on our behavior.
I actually did an internship – part of my mandatory cognitive psychology training -- at a zoo, studying our closest cousins, bonobos, and their social interactions and how those relate to their hormonal systems.”
Bram describes that he has always been fascinated by the fundamental drivers of people’s behavior and believes that before understanding complexity, we need to understand the simple things in life. “So, while I started as a psych student with a keen interest in biology, I gradually evolved into a consumer behavior or behavioral scientist,” reflected Bram on his overall journey to being a marketing scholar.
How do you approach your role as an Area Editor at the IJRM?
“Since it’s only been a year, I consider myself to be quite new to the Area Editor role. I've found that I enjoy being an AE more than a reviewer because it allows me to adopt a mindset of helping authors rather than just critiquing their work."
I see each manuscript as a puzzle, and my role is to help authors navigate the criticisms and find solutions that can push their research forward.”
-- Bram Van den Bergh
What is one trend in submitted consumer behavior manuscripts you predict to become standard practice over the next five years?
“The use of multi-method approaches. Instead of relying solely on lab experiments, more and more researchers are now incorporating data from field experiments and online sources like Amazon, Google, or Twitter. By viewing a single phenomenon from multiple perspectives, we can triangulate our findings and gain a richer understanding. I think this is quite promising in advancing our field!”
What is your advice for authors submitting their work to IJRM?
Bram provides three pieces of golden advice for submission:
1. Be transparent: Be transparent about what you did and didn't do in terms of statistical analysis and methods. Usually, a good practice is to share data and codes (when possible) on the Open Science Framework (link here). This is because sometimes, reviewers may not have enough information to make informed judgments about your work, which can lead to miscommunications.
Being transparent about what you did, and how you did it, can make reviewers and editors feel more at ease and less skeptical.
-- Bram Van den Bergh
2. Communicate clearly: Think deeply about key takeaways and the key message you want to get across to the reader. Sometimes authors try to overcomplicate things that can be said more simply. It's important to lay out key ideas in a clear and structured way. Otherwise, it can be difficult for readers to digest what the most important insights are.
3. Clarify contribution: Be aware of the balance between theoretical and practical contributions. There's value in both purely theoretical research and purely applied research. However, a common pitfall is that authors mistakenly think they need both, and overclaim their contributions. It's important to position your work appropriately and avoid overpromising or overgeneralizing your contributions.
We can’t always be Pasteur. Being Bohr or Edison can be quite the feat itself.
-- Bram Van den Bergh
Meet Bram Van den Bergh
If you were not an academic researcher, what would you be?
Funny thing, my kids asked me the same question last week. I think I would be a lawyer because I love reading and structuring arguments. I would also love to be a detective or an investigative journalist because I enjoy podcasts and documentaries involving true crime. Alternatively, I could be an architect, combining creativity and data science to ensure buildings don't collapse and are aesthetically pleasing.
If you could have one superpower, what would you want to be able to do?
I would want to have the ability to turn invisible. I'm curious about many things and would love to randomly walk into meetings to know what people are talking about. Being a fly on the wall would give me remarkable insights into what’s going on in the world and would probably satisfy my inherent curiosity to a great extent.
Which celebrity would you like to have dinner with?
Quentin Tarantino. I admire his work and find him to be a fascinating character. I would love to listen to him give a lecture the entire time over a four-course meal. His unique life experiences and the stories behind his movies would make quite an intriguing dinner discussion.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Slow down. I tend to be very impatient and always in a hurry, whether it's biking fast or trying to see every piece of art in a museum at once. I've been told that life is a marathon, not a sprint and that most of what we do isn’t very urgent. We should take our time to do certain things. However, I often find myself speeding up when I should be slowing down and savoring the moment. Even though I don't always live by this advice, I recognize its value and am working on being more mindful and patient.
This article was written by
Jareef Bin Martuza
Ph.D. Candidate at the Norwegian School of Economics