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    John Wilson Dickhaut, Jr. - 1942-2010
    memorial posted August 30, 2010 by Deirdre Harris, last edited October 27, 2011 by Tracey Sutherland, tagged 2010, memorial 
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    John Wilson Dickhaut, Jr. - 1942-2010

    John Dickhaut passed away April 10, 2010 at his California home following a long and courageous battle with cancer. John was a widely respected member of the accounting and economics academic communities. At the time of his death, he was the Jerrold A. Glass Endowed Chair in Accounting and Economics at Chapman University. He was also the Emeritus Curtis L. Carlson Land Grant Chair in Accounting Professor at the University of Minnesota where he had served on the faculty from 1976 to 2008.

    John W. Dickhaut, Jr. was born on February 10, 1942. He was the son of John W. and Margaret S. Dickhaut and brother of Robert Dickhaut. John’s father was a Methodist minister and founder and President of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. He loved his father’s spontaneous, “corny” sense of humor, admired his mother’s determination and ability to fully immerse herself in every moment of life, and marveled at his brother’s voracious appetite for books.

    He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and received a B.A. in English Literature from Duke University in 1964. Upon graduation, he returned to Columbus where he entered a Master’s program in accounting at the Ohio State University. He received his Master’s degree in 1966, but along the way was encouraged by Professor Thomas Burns to seek a PhD. He received his PhD from Ohio State in 1970 and took his first faculty position at the University of Chicago.

    John’s early research was in the traditional accounting domain. His dissertation paper won the AAA’s Manuscript Contest and was published in the January 1973 issue of The Accounting Review. This paper was among the earliest attempts in the accounting literature to use experimental methods. Several papers followed in the Journal of Accounting Research and other accounting outlets over the first part of his career.

    After 1980, John’s research broadened when his interests shifted into experimental economics. He made fundamental contributions that fostered understanding of human risk preferences and trust in economic interaction. His work included studies using agent-based models to study market phenomena, and he was an early pioneer in “neuroeconomics,” an emergent area that studies the relation between the human brain and economic choice. This research was published in leading academic journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), Games and Economic Behavior, Quarterly Journal of Economics, and Management Science.

    Among John’s papers are classic studies that have had and will continue to have a major impact. His 1995 paper in Games and Economic Behavior with Joyce Berg and Kevin McCabe on the “trust game” has been cited over a thousand times and been replicated in hundreds of studies. His 2005 PNAS paper on risk preference instability (also with Berg and McCabe) was highlighted by the editors of Science magazine in its “Editor’s Choice” column of March 25, 2005. His recent work in PNAS (December 29, 2009) with Aldo Rustichini and Vernon Smith offers a comprehensive theory of economic choice that seeks to simultaneously explain data observed in behavioral choices and physiological measurement of activity within the brain. John’s recent move back to basic accounting issues is an attempt to reconcile what we know about the brain with how accounting has been shaped (see “The Brain as the Original Accounting Institution,” The Accounting Review, November 2009).

    It might seem surprising that John would begin in academic accounting, but end up doing basic research in neuroscience. But, John was forward-looking and he may have intended that the human brain would be his ultimate research destination. I was at Chapman when John passed away, and a few days later came across a book in his office entitled Signal Detection Theory and Psychophysics, by Green and Swets. He had checked out this book from Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago on October 10, 1972, but had never returned it. I became curious as to whether he had cited it directly in any of his papers. (Most likely, he acquired this book while working on a study with Ian Eggleton on human processing of quantitative data published in the Journal of Accounting Research in Spring 1975.) I found only one direct citation for the Green and Swets book: the 2009 PNAS paper with Rustichini and Smith that used signal detection theory as a foundation for their neuronal-based theory of economic choice.

    John Dickhaut had a profound influence on a generation of graduate students and faculty colleagues. Students where he served as a dissertation chair or committee member (not to mention co-author) include Joyce Berg, Robert Bushman, Carol Eger, Steve Gjerstad, Todd Kaplan, Meg Ledyard, Radhika Lunawat, John O’Brien, Haresh Sapra, Tim Shields, Jack Stecher, and Baohua Xing. These individuals learned much about conducting research, and they directly observed how research could be great fun. Colleagues from Chapman, Minnesota, and other universities can regale others with “Dickhaut stories.” These might recount a heated debate in a workshop, how he worked for hours with a co-author to get every last detail right on a paper, or how he wore his “Goofy” slippers through the halls of academia while singing a favorite song at a volume that everyone within a half mile radius could hear.

    His final institutional love was for the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University. ESI, founded by economist Vernon Smith along with John, Dave Porter, Steve Rassenti, and Bart Wilson, is a unique group dedicated to the use of scientific experimentation to discover fundamental aspects of human economic behavior. The working partnership of these scholars was something that John felt very strongly about. He had found a new home at Chapman, and that was evident when he was gave the first Lectio Magistralis there in November 2008 (video available online at

    Colleagues, students, and friends will remember John Dickhaut as a genius who brimmed with enthusiasm for life, humor, and intellectual intensity. His research work had continued through several rounds of cancer treatment that spanned a decade. His passion for life and the “life of the mind” was apparent up to his final moments. The final time I spoke with John was on the evening before he died (I had been at Chapman to present a seminar earlier that day on a paper we are writing). Our conversation, like all of our talks, focused on what we wanted to accomplish in the future with this paper and the others we had planned. It brought a huge smile to my face when a few days later I discovered the following entry that John had written in his personal journal on January 7, 1985:

    “Suppose I say – tomorrow is the last day of my life. The trick is to feel it. Not to be afraid. I feel more alert. More awake.

    I will be planning in the last day of my life. The plans will be immense ones. I will die with a vision. I will be envisioning when I die. I will be looking forward. I will have created a number of alternatives, all relating to my life structure.”

    John Dickhaut was a loving and generous man. He touched us. He inspired us to be better. He lives within us because he came closer than anyone to living every day as if it were his final one.  

    John is survived by his loving friend and wife, Sheri, his brother, Robert Dickhaut, Bob’s wife, Veronique, and John’s niece, Charlotte, and nephew, Jason, an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago.

    Gregory Waymire

    Atlanta, Georgia

    June 7, 2010