January 12, 2005

Economics and Monkey Brains

Commerce By: ams

Rohit pointed out that Reader’s Digest, of all things, had an article (not on-line apparently) this month on how researchers are using fMRI to contribute new insights in behavioral economics.

Monkeys (and the article’s author) were observed using fMRI while participating in artificial trading games to investigate what parts of the brain are activated when the traders encounter cooperative or uncooperative behavior. The Cingulate cortext, long known to be involved in emotional and abstract thinking, shows particularly heightened activity after one player betrays another. The researchers hope to draw conclusions about what conditions build trust in trading communities

fMRI studies with monkeys who were trained in simple games of chance
have located particular neurons in the monkeys’ brains that fire at a
rate proportional to the expected utility of the payoff for whichever
outcome is currently being examined. This places these kinds of evaluation functions at a more basic level than had previously been suggested.

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