Congratulations Eric! [PNAS Link]
Set and colleagues present an impressive study combining sophisticated modeling of strategic behavior and a sophisticated genetic modeling approach.
Project Summary: The current proposal aims to study neural mechanisms of social learning in healthy adults as a precursor to understanding the impact of mental illnesses on social functioning. Changes in social behavior are often the first symptoms of a striking array of neuropsychiatric disorders. However, whereas disruptions in memory, motor, or emotional functioning are readily recognized as symptoms of more serious underlying conditions, decision-making deficits are often overlooked, particularly in the social domain. Furthermore, there exist few behavioral measures or biomarkers to quantify such deficits, due in part to our limited knowledge of the underlying neural mechanisms and their relation to mental disorders.
We do so via a tight integration of computational modeling of goal-directed social behavior, and testing the predictions generated using complementary experimental techniques with both fMRI and focal lesion patients. In particular, we focus on the role of dopamine and interactions between the basal ganglia and frontal cortices, which are together critical for goal-directed behavior and known to be affected in a variety of disorders. First, we will use the model, calibrated on observed behavior, to derive trial-by-trial regressors for use in functional neuroimaging experiments. Second, the estimated parameters of the model themselves can be used to compare across health and diseased groups, or find subtypes of the diseased groups. Finally, the neural correlates and the behavioral estimates can be combined in order to find novel brain-behavior markers of diseases. In this way, we seek to provide a unifying account of goal-directed behavior in both social and non-social settings, which has the potential to lead to development of new ways of classifying mental disorders based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.
Zhu, Lusha, Daniel Walsh, and Ming Hsu. Neuroeconomic Measures of Social Decision-Making Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 6:128. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00128.
I don’t know what happened to the study, perhaps it fell into the proprietary information stack that never sees the light of day. But to me it represents a side of consumer neuroscience that has thus far been under-explored—namely the neural processes through which metaphors and mental imagery influence behavior. We now know quite a bit about the basic decision making processes at the brain level, but it doesn’t begin to describe the way that narratives and behavior affect our behavior. Getting a handle on this would be a huge advance scientifically.
In a study now under way at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Stephen M. Kosslyn and I are using PET scans to assess the impact of three alternative marketing stimuli (relating to automobile dealerships) developed by Lewis Carbone of Experience Engineering for a division of General Motors. The constructs involved in these stimuli (about which study participants also complete a written questionnaire) include anxiety, trust, and comfort.
This is just one anecdote, but the underlying idea—that food is like a drug, and obesity like addiction—is become quite well accepted. The analogy does have a few problems, delineated very nicely in a recent Nature Reviews Neuroscience opinion piece. My main takeaway is that it’s no so much as the analogy that fails, but rather the facile comparison of symptoms. For example, the tolerance and withdrawal symptoms in drug abuse have no direct equivalent in food. Still, the cognitive mechanisms, such as impulsivity and self control, likely underlie both.
Unfortunately for me, I was pretty weak from fighting all those earlier urges and had no defense against the most dastardly diet killing villain ever. Girl Scouts and their cookies! “Sir,” this cute, very innocent, albeit completely evil little girl asked, “would you like to buy some girl scout cookies? They are for a good cause.”
I just stared blankly at her for what must have been 3 minutes, begging God to smite this little demon down with a bolt of lightning.Before that could happen though, her mom noticed me just staring at her and thought I was a creeper or something because she came running over to investigate.
“Sir,” the little girl said again with her mom now standing next to her protectively, “well, would you like some cookies?”
By that point, since no lightening had come down and my will power was spent from the drive prior, I started shaking violently. Finally I screaming, “Ok! I give up,” and knocked both the little girl and her mother over as I ran to the table loaded down with boxes and boxes of multicolored Girl Scout cookies, like I was chasing gold at the end of a rainbow.
Unfortunately there was no clear sourcing in Pendergast, and I wasn’t able to find anything like this in Münsterberg’s published works. However, I did find a quote to the effect of above in a 1913 judgment of Continental Securities co. v. Belmont (!!!) in the Miscellaneous Reports: Cases Decided in the Courts of Record of the State of New York (hooray for Google books).
Business men will eventually realize that customers are merely bundles of mental states and that the mind is a mechanism that we can affect with the same exactitude with which we control a machine in a factor.
It was baffling to me why the judge handling the case included this example. As far as I can tell it’s some obscure law about securities contracts, but more to the point the judge of this opinion did not give a citation. Still, clearly some psychologist back in the early 1900s wrote/said something to this effect, and Münsterberg wouldn’t be a bad guess.
Law may be an exact science in the conception of the psychologist, who now claims that even banking and business are exact sciences, which can control them as well as any other field of social life, and by the introduction of psychology therein men will eventually realize that individuals with whom they deal are merely bundles of mental states, and that the mind is a mechanism that we (psychologists?) can affect with the same exactitude with which we control a machine in a factory.
Speaking of Münsterberg, even though his speculations about something like neuromarketing went nowhere, he pioneered IO and forensic psychology, without which business and law schools would probably look very different today. I hope it won’t take another hundred years to understand the brain processes of marketing and business in general.
Still, just because the topics are different doesn’t mean the problems are completely dissimilar. I particularly like the session on Cryosphere Hydrosphere Interaction, not least because I learned two new words. The other thing I learned was that ice caps on mountains like Kilimanjaro are essentially in equilibrium with the surrounding environment, so it’s easy to understand the effects of global warming. Ice sheets on the other hand, are a totally different beast. Because they are so massive they change the environment around them; and to model the effects requires knowledge of parameters and mechanisms that we know very little about. Now since this is all from memory the details are probably totally wrong, but I think it makes for a pretty nice physical analogy to what makes economic phenomenon complicated.
P.S. A couple of people asked if I can send them my slides, so here they are.
The important logistic component is done by having players control a computer avatar using a joystick. This way they are able to create a large range of expressions very quickly. Everything is done in Poser and much of the code is based on software from our collaborator Jesse Spencer-Smith. Lusha wrote the rest of the code to be able to run a game in Poser. All in all, it works surprisingly smoothly!
There is a real difficulty however in conveying the quality of these expressions to colleagues (not to mention grant reviewers!). It's not that surprising in hindsight, but when you say that the players create an expression in 3 seconds, people expect something amateurish and not at all realistic. Compound that with the fact that the way people communicate in academia is still overwhelmingly print-based, and we have a situation where it's difficult to get across a sense of quality of the game. So I've decided to put up some video captures of the faces players are sending each other during games. At some point I'll have to do a screencast of a whole game so people can get a sense of the flow of the software.
This is an example of an expression sent in a stochastic dictator game, from recipient to dictator. The dictator gives the recipient a possibly unfair split. The recipient then decided to sent back the above expression. Needless to say, he is less than pleased. The whole sequence, from dictator's decision to recipient's expression, probably took less than 30 seconds.