Portrait image for Hengchen Dai

Hengchen Dai

Associate Professor of Management and Organizations and Behavioral Decision Making
“While studying what motivates people, I often look internally to my sources of motivation. The granularity of analysis enabled by big data excites me.”
(310) 206-2716
Areas of Expertise:
  • Behavioral Change
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Motivation
  • Social Influence


When Hengchen Dai was in elementary school, her teacher asked her what her career goals were. At 8 years old, she listed three ambitions: scientist, teacher and diplomat. Now she combines all three — as a scholar of judgment and decision making whose research has implications for companies that use data analytics to increase employee motivation and customer engagement, and as a teacher at a business school with an extremely diverse international student population.

Dai joined the Management and Organizations faculty at UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2017. She is also a faculty member in Anderson’s Behavioral Decision Making area. Prior to Anderson, she served on the faculty of Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Dai is the co-director of the UCLA Health-Anderson Nudge Unit, which applies insights from behavioral science to develop interventions for improving clinical quality. She is serving as a Senior Editor for Organization Science.

Dai’s work is at home in the thriving tech and business environment of Los Angeles. She seeks out opportunities to work with corporations, educational institutions, health care systems and online platforms to conduct field studies that get to the heart of what motivates people.

Dai applies three perspectives to her work.

  • From an intrapersonal perspective, she seeks to advance understanding of when people are more or less likely to behave in line with their long-term best interests both inside and outside the workplace. She particularly focuses on how and why various kinds of “fresh starts” affect self-control and motivation.
  • From an interpersonal perspective, Dai examines how others’ behaviors and judgments shape people’s motivation. For example, she has studied how others’ performance expectations and goals become salient reference points that shape individuals’ consequential decisions.
  • From a policy perspective, Dai applies insights from behavioral economics and psychology to design interventions that can steer people toward farsighted decision making. She seeks to more comprehensively understand the effects of managerial interventions beyond their immediate impact by uncovering unintended negative consequences they may yield, documenting their long-term effects, and identifying determinants of intervention scalability.

Dai has published in top general science journals (Nature, Nature Human Behaviour, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), management journals (Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Management Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes), as well as in top-tier psychology, marketing and medical journals. She has received prestigious awards and honors, including Association for Psychological Science Fellow and the Association for Psychological Science Janet Taylor Spence Award, along with research awards for individual papers (e.g., the Robert B. Cialdini Prize from SPSP, Behavioral Science & Policy Association’s Best Publication in Behavioral Policy).

Dai teaches in UCLA Anderson’s fully employed MBA program and full-time MBA program. She was named one of Poets & Quants’ World’s Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professors and received UCLA Anderson’s Dean George W. Robbins Assistant Professor Teaching Award. She says, “I want students to see immediate value in the studies I share in class. I want to help them connect their own experiences with theories so they can apply research findings in their own work as soon as they leave the classroom.”


Ph.D. Operations and Information Management, 2015, University of Pennsylvania

B.S. Psychology, 2010, Peking University

B.A. Economics, 2010, Peking University

Papers are available here

Working papers are available here


Association for Psychological Science Fellow


Association for Psychological Science Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions 


The 2023 Behavioral Science & Policy Association’s Best Publication in Behavioral Policy


UCLA Anderson’s Dean George W. Robbins Assistant Professor Teaching Award


Association for Psychological Science Rising Star


UCLA Anderson’s Eric and E Juline Faculty Excellence in Research Award


UCLA Hellman Fellows Award ($19,500)


UCLA Faculty Career Development Award ($7,500)


Poets & Quants Selection: “World’s 40 Best B-School Professors Under the Age of 40”


The Robert B. Cialdini Prize from SPSP 

Awarded annually to an outstanding publication that best explicates social psychological phenomena through field research methods and demonstrates broad relevance


BX Award for Outstanding Research by a Doctoral Student


The Academy of Management Outstanding Reviewer Award – MOC Division


The Academy of Management Outstanding Reviewer Award – OB Division


Connie K. Duckworth Doctoral Fellowship

Awarded to one outstanding female Ph.D. student at Wharton


Paul R. Kleindorfer Scholar Award

Awarded to one outstanding Ph.D. student in the Ph.D. program


Outstanding Undergraduate in Beijing


Leo KoGuan Academic Scholarship

Awarded to the top 1% of students at Peking University