Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Assistant Professor of Marketing
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Gideon Nave is a prolific marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Since 2016, Nave has racked up nearly 2,900 Google Scholar citations. In addition to his robust research, Nave won the Wharton Teaching Excellence Award and the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Rising Star Award both in 2020.
“A stream of my current research investigates how our psychological makeup shapes our liking of different brands and products,” Nave says of his research. “This has led my colleagues and me to investigate the links between movie preferences and personality. We trained a machine-learning algorithm that used text descriptions of movie plots to predict the aggregate personality profile of social media users who ‘like’ the movies. To my surprise, these predictions were quite accurate—so this method can be used to assess the personality of movie fans without having to rely on surveys. The effect was driven by congruency between the psychological themes of the movies and their fans’ personalities. For example, films that have more social interactions in them have extroverted fans.”
There was a lot to like about Nave, but one of our favorite things was his unlikely path to becoming a business school professor. A trained electrical engineer, Nave also has a degree in Neuroscience.
Current age: 39
At current institution since what year? 2016
Education: Ph.D., Computation & Neural Systems, Caltech; BSc and MSc, Electrical Engineering, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Consumer Neuroscience, Data and Analysis for Marketing Decisions
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was originally trained as an Electrical Engineer and then did my Ph.D. in Neuroscience, so even though I’ve always loved research and teaching, being a business school professor was not an obvious career path. I knew business school was the right environment for me after spending a semester visiting INSEAD as a second-year Ph.D. student. I immediately felt at home in the marketing department, where research questions are guided by people’s real-world needs, and the methods of answering them are not subjected to disciplinary bounds.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
A stream of my current research investigates how our psychological makeup shapes our liking of different brands and products. This has led my colleagues and me to investigate the links between movie preferences and personality. We trained a machine-learning algorithm that used text descriptions of movie plots to predict the aggregate personality profile of social media users who ‘like’ the movies. To my surprise, these predictions were quite accurate—so this method can be used to assess the personality of movie fans without having to rely on surveys. The effect was driven by congruency between the psychological themes of the movies and their fans’ personalities. For example, films that have more social interactions in them have extroverted fans.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be an entrepreneur.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
Because of my background in Neuroscience, I have a lot of experience working with biometric research methods—such as eye-tracking, face-reading, and brain-imaging. Neuroscientists have been using these technologies for decades, but only recently have we begun to see how they can complement traditional consumer research methods such as surveys and focus groups.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Energizing
Professor I most admire and why: There are many professors whom I greatly admire, but if I had to pick one, my Ph.D. adviser Colin Camerer (Caltech) stands out. There’s an old Jewish saying: “Who is wise? The one that learns from every person,” and Colin is a living example of that. Everyone knows that he is a genius (he became a professor at the age of 21!), but what makes him truly unique is that he never stops learning from others and always surrounds himself with people who can teach him new skills. Working with him was a life-changing experience—I was fortunate to have in him a mentor with endless curiosity and openness, and he gave me the confidence to pursue the ideas I was passionate about. He taught me that being a world-class scientist is not at odds with kindness, modesty, and a great sense of humor.
TEACHING MBA STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
The diversity. All my students are interested in business, but they come from many different parts of the world and have had many different life experiences. Every interaction with a student is an exciting opportunity to get to know an interesting person and learn something new.
What is most challenging?
The diversity. Students come from many different professional backgrounds, and therefore topics that are very familiar to some can be intimidating initially to others. The art of teaching a good MBA class requires carefully curating materials that are engaging regardless of the students’ previous careers and educational backgrounds.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Outcome-focused
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
I swim four times a week. When I’m in the water, my mind drifts and new ideas float.
I play the keyboard. Right before the pandemic, I started playing with the ‘Brand Inequities’, the Wharton Marketing Department band. I hope we’ll get to play together again soon.
I love discovering new places and cultures, and just being in nature.
How will you spend your summer?
I haven’t seen my family for two years because of the pandemic and I’m looking forward to spending time with them in Israel. Other than that, I hope to meet with collaborators I haven’t seen for a long time and push several projects that I’m excited about forward.
Favorite place(s) to vacation:
Every place that has a combination of beautiful nature, history and authentic culture. Recent vacations that ticked all of these boxes were in Vietnam, the Philippines and the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Favorite book(s): ‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Taleb. It keeps surprising me how accurately this book describes the world we live in.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
I enjoyed the Israeli TV show Shtisel, now on Netflix. It tells the story of an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem. Growing up secular and liberal in Israel, I tended to focus on how different the ultra-orthodox were. The show is eye-opening, as it reminds me that, at the end of the day, all humans are more similar than they are different from one another.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Just as my research builds bridges between academic disciplines, I enjoy listening to music that blends different styles. One of my favorite artists is Kutiman, who samples music from YouTube videos of relatively anonymous musicians and mixes them together to create mashups that are groovy and wonderfully complex.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
I’m grateful for… Having a job that I love; being part of a wonderful department, where I’m surrounded by inspiring colleagues whom I constantly learn from; my creative and hard-working research collaborators; and above all, my wife, my family and my friends—who have always unconditionally supported me through the years.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
Gidi’s work will be central to the future of Marketing as we try to augment stated and transactional data with biological bases for behavior. His blend of neuroscience, economics, and Machine Learning is the “new consumer behavior” research: all methods, all the time!
- Eric Bradlow, Wharton Marketing Department chair
There’s a special quality to Professor Nave’s approach to teaching. His classroom isn’t filled with the flash and performance that many professors lean on to keep their MBA students engaged. Instead, he guides his students through a semester-long expedition of inquiry and experience, during which he reveals the interconnectedness of the world around us, and how the questions asked in marketing extend far beyond the bounds of commerce. Teaching marketing and data analysis could be a dry, technical pursuit focused just on mastering conjoint analysis, A/B testing, the best market research methods. Instead, Professor Nave synthesizes and weaves in his own diverse areas of research—neuroscience, music, psychology, and more—to teach his students the importance of curiosity, how to ask more of the right questions, and to constantly chase their own assumptions then dispel them with those insights earned through research and rigor. As a student, I looked forward to Professor Nave’s classes. As a businesswoman running my own strategy and marketing firm, I use both the quantitative skills that he taught, and the approach he encouraged to ask more questions and open one’s mind to possibilities.
- Pilar Castro-Kiltz, Wharton MBA (2019)
Prof. Nave’s Marketing Analytics class was one of the most valuable and transformative courses I’ve taken during my MBA. The questions asked by Prof. Nave and the class discussions that he led, made students think deeply and holistically on a large set of marketing problems, tools, and methodologies – making the learning experience both practical and fun. Prof. Nave is profoundly dedicated to empowering his students – be it by always making himself available, discussing career planning, or providing mentorship to students who start their own ventures. His passion to what he teaches creates a vibrate class, where students learn from one another and develop true curiosity about the class materials.
- Mor Klier, Wharton MBA (2019)
I’ve had the privilege of taking Professor Nave’s Consumer Neuroscience class last year. Despite the virtual format (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Professor Nave taught the class in a highly engaging manner and provided his students a unique opportunity to explore the usefulness of Neuroscience in business settings. He was strongly committed to supporting students throughout the semester and ensured that no-one was left behind due to individual circumstances during these unusual times.
- Ana E. Defendini Cortés, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania
Gidi is an exemplar of how business school faculty should be; he is a rigorous scholar whose work bridges between disciplines to advance our basic understanding of people’s behavior, as well as the practical ways in which it affects markets. He is extremely generous with his time and knowledge and is always free to provide professional or personal advice. As a mentor, he pushed me to be independent and own my work, but always provided support and “had my back”. He maintains this high bar in his MBA teaching by making the classes engaging and interesting but still challenging for students, so they could derive real, tangible, value from their studies.
- Uri Barnea, Wharton PhD (2020)
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