Alumni Spotlight – Dario Krpan

Our society is nowadays swooned over the light of discovery that artificial intelligence and virtual reality has brought into our lives. The sweeping capabilities of smart assistants, such as Alexa or Siri could make us wonder how these revolutionary, pioneering technologies will transform our mindset and behavior on the long run.

This week our interviewee and respected alumni, Dario Krpan; Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics, will share his career journey with us, and a bit of an insight about his main field of research that explores how human behavior and technology intertwines in our modern times.

Dario, what made you choose Webster Vienna Private University?

When I was deciding on applying for my undergraduate degree (in psychology), I had two important factors in mind. I wanted to study at an international university that offers a cutting-edge undergraduate program, and I wanted to live in an inspiring city that would enrich my overall experience. Webster Vienna Private University seemed like a perfect fit, and an additional bonus is that it is also close to my home country of Croatia.

Are there any memories from your time at WVPU that stand out?

The time I spent here was fun and I had many great moments with other students and my lecturers. I remember one moment from the Biological Psychology course that was taught by the current department head, Dr. Peter Walla. He wanted us to do a presentation about one of the five senses (i.e. sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch), but I asked him if I could do a presentation about the sixth sense (i.e. to explain biologically how the body may sense extra-perceptual information that the five senses cannot capture but that we sometimes intuitively feel). I think he found the idea funny, but he allowed me to do it as part of a course assessment. This was very important to me because I enjoy adding creativity to my assignments, and I still remember this one whenever I think about WVPU.

In what ways did your time at WVPU prepare you to continue on with your studies and achieve your PhD?

To me the most important features of my undergraduate studies at WVPU were the cutting edge knowledge about psychology taught by excellent professors, and that I was given many opportunities and freedom to be very creative. Once you come to the stage where you are doing your PhD and then become a scientist, creativity is extremely important.  Being allowed to develop your creativity during your undergraduate studies is a very important characteristic for the later stages of your career, but unlike WVPU, many universities neglect this.

You are currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science, can you tell us a little about your current work?

As the Assistant Professor in Behavioral Science, I am primarily focused on research and teaching courses to postgraduate students for the Executive MSc in Behavioral Science. One of the courses that I teach is “Behavioral Science in an Age of New Technology”, which covers how various cutting edge technologies, ranging from motion tracking, gamification, and social robotics to virtual reality and digital footprints captured via various gadgets can be used to predict and influence behavior.

I have a variety of research interests, which range from using subtle manipulations such as different types of nudging to influence physical activity and healthy eating, to exploring how new technologies such as augmented reality can be used to influence behavior. I typically do research in the lab, in the field, or online, and I also work with policy makers to help them understand how they can use behavioral science to change people’s behavior for the better in the public domain. I especially enjoy working with students who always have great research ideas for their MSc dissertation.

You have published some interesting articles? Can you tell us more about the topics?

At the moment I am working on a few different lines of research. One topic I am interested in is to see how to influence vegetarian food consumption. For example, I am exploring how changing positions of dishes on restaurant menus or manipulating menu section names can make people more likely to select a vegetarian dish.

I have always been interested in physics, so one of the other topics that I am also currently researching is how to combine methodologies and theoretical approaches from physics (e.g. dynamical systems theory) with psychology to discover most effective ways of changing human behavior and measuring the behavioral change.

Finally, I am also researching human-robot interaction and working on developing an overarching theory that would explain how humans interact with robots in many different domains, including healthcare, education, hospitality, etc.

What is it like to be a Behavioral Scientist in daily life?  Do you ever find yourself analyzing what others around you are doing?

I have always been very interested in human behavior, and I am frequently observing what other people around me are doing and trying to come up with different theories to explain their behavior. In a way, I am now focused on this professionally, while I have always had a personal curiosity about behavior. One of the best things about being a behavioral scientist is that it is easy to skip small talk at social events because people I meet typically get very interested in what I do and we start discussing deep questions about life, happiness, social issues, and so on.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of being a Behavioral Scientist?  The most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect of being a behavioral scientist is that human behavior is extremely unpredictable – it is not exactly as in physics where you can perform one lab experiment and you know that you will very likely get the same result every time you repeat it, regardless of the location you conduct it in. In behavioral science the results may differ based on where you are conducting the study (e.g. lab or field), culture, time of the day, etc. so it is sometimes difficult to uncover some universal laws of human behavior that are the norm in physics. On the other hand, behavioral science is rewarding because it involves a lot of creativity, you deal with many interesting people, and you feel like you are making a real difference in people’s lives.

If you had to give any advice to those who are currently studying at WVPU, what would it be?

To make use of the university’s international community and form personal and professional connections across the globe that will last a lifetime, by attending events organized by the university and various student bodies and organizations, and to take at least one course with Dr. Peter Walla.

If you had to sum up your time and studies in Vienna in one word, what would it be?

Priceless.

In your opinion, why does Webster Vienna Private University stand out in Austria? What makes this university so unique?

Webster Vienna Private University stands out in Austria because of its international community – in today’s global world, internationalism is very important, and studying at WVPU allows the students to meet people from various different cultures and form international connections that can be enriching both personally and professionally. WVPU also offers cutting edge programs that follow international trends and has great lecturers who are all inspiring teachers, who interested in what students have to say. I think WVPU is much more open-minded than other more traditional universities, and during my studies I felt that I had much more freedom to express myself than would have been the case at any other university. That kind of environment makes studying more fulfilling and meaningful. 

Please let us know if you have a favorite quote?

This is one of my favorite quotes, from Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky: “To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's.”

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