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.
P.S. To grant agencies, now would be a great time to fund my proposals. :-)
For the sake of memory, I'm putting up some random pictures of our poster at the 2008 Society for Neuroeconomics conference, as well as our space the Beckman Institute. It's too bad I never remembered to take pictures of our experiments; not every day one gets to see a room of PCs and joysticks. :-)
This looks like a real-life version of the impunity game. It is similar to an ultimatum game, except rejection only reduces the responder's own payoff, and has no effect on the proposer's. So if as a responder you were offered ($8, $2) split and decide to reject, the allocation would be ($8, $0), so you lose a couple of dollars to make some kind of a point. This is an interesting game in that rejections are inequity raising, rather than reducing as in the case of the ultimatum game. This type of behavior has now been demonstrated in a couple of recent experiments using both humans and monkeys. I think there is also an older paper by Rami Zwick where this game was introduced? Anyway I can't remember.
My question though is: what is the difference between subsidies for child-bearing and marriage? If the answer is that the subsidy is patronizing in that it sounds like it's being given to the husbands, but I don't think it would be any less repugnant to the women if the money were directly given to them.
Yamagishi et al. The private rejection of unfair offers and emotional commitment. PNAS (2009) vol. 106 (28) pp. 11520-11523
Brosnan and De Waal. Monkeys reject unequal pay. Nature (2003) vol. 425 (6955) pp. 297-9
gs -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4 -dPDFSETTINGS=/printer -dNOPAUSE -dQUIET -dBATCH -sOutputFile=output.pdf input.pdf
This uses the "printer" setting, which downsamples at 300DPI. Ebook is 150DPI. There is also prepress which I haven't used but I'm guessing 600DPI? Hard disk space is cheap these days but there are a couple of practical reasons to do this: sharing with others, and screen rendering speed. In particular Preview slows to a crawl at times.
After getting tired enough of deleting and renaming the files by hand, I created a Leopard Automator action for this. Now I can just select the file, and it will convert and replace the original.
They also seem to me to be particularly useful in situations involving repugnant transactions. Perhaps an example of cognitive appraisal?
“I told Boyden: ‘Imagine you just fired up the government printing presses and dumped an endless stream of money into the system. You’d have no way of controlling the money supply,’ ” Mr. Dudek said. “He understood totally and intuitively the importance of maintaining the cap, the key ingredient in our acid rain policy.” A month later, the Bush White House sent Congress a cap-and-trade plan...
This has a similar flavor to the classic paper Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking by Kahneman, Knetch, and Thaler. They explain several market anomalies by proposing that actions of otherwise profit-maximizing firms are restricted by the consumers' preferences for fairness. The definition of "fairness" is however hard to pin down, not surprisingly since the strategic and social context vary greatly. People typically agree that raising the price of a snow shovel after a snow storm is unfair; 82% in their survey rated an increase of $15 to $20 as unfair (rather stingy of the respondents I think).
They catalogue some different situations where fairness norms are violated, for example, exploitation of increased market power or protecting profits. Maybe what's tying all these together is the role of intentions in fairness interpretations. Steve and I have an upcoming perspective discussing this, so stay tuned (to all 5 of you reading).
The last question from the hosts kind of stumped me though. It was something like, "If there was a song that described your life arc, what song would it be?" After the show Desiree told me one previous answer was the Imperial march from Star Wars, which is pretty good. I have nothing to rival that. I've thought about it and still can't think of anything. Maybe Dirt Off Your Shoulders, but I don't even like that song.
Anyway I am looking forward to getting the podcast soon. Here's hoping that everything sounds better on air, or over iTunes in this case.
(5/4): The episode is up now. A couple of thoughts.
- It's hard to keep things on a lay level. I made a conscious effort at the beginning but it was hard to maintain. Science blogs complain bitterly about the media butchering their science reporting. They are certainly right in some cases, but what gets overlooked is just how difficult it is to be engaging without overloading on jargon and details. It doesn't help that people tend to fixate on the headlines, which to me seems harder to write and typically not even written by the author of the article.
- The length of the show (~40min) surprised me. And since it started recording at 7PM CST, I was totally starving and noticeably running out of steam towards the end. If it had gone on further I would have either ordered take out or starting speaking in tongues.
It’ll be interesting to see whether academic starting salaries in economics fall due to the diminished demand. Somehow, I suspect that economists will cook up some new rationales that they can offer to beleaguered deans about why economists’ salaries should remain higher than what the rest of us make.
Given all of these studies are in universities, it wouldn't be too difficult to show a group of political scientists (actually you have your pick of disciplines) the pictures of their economist colleagues. I can almost see the twinkle of bemused malice in their eyes at offering $1 out of 10 to their economist colleagues in an ultimatum game. The parity in faculty compensation in Japan though is going to make this difficult. So, if you are a political scientist and genuinely enjoy seeing the misfortunes of your economics colleagues, please email me to volunteer for my new study, which I call, "Haterade in the Ivory Tower".
P.S. I don't mean to pick on the Monkey Cage. I like the blog and the entry is amusing and certainly not mean-spirited. If you are looking for the latter though, you'd be hard pressed to top this group.
Also, if one thinks it is an obvious point that fear influences risk attitude, then it should be useful to measure, say, the effects of fear on stock prices. But how does one measure the independent variable--fear? You could go around surveying traders, but you're stuck with self-report and low temporal resolution data in the best of times. Or you could measure things like galvanic skin response in real-time like Lo and Repin did, which at least gets you some indication of physiological and emotional arousal. Is this ideal? Of course not, but short of sticking electrodes in brains of traders like we do in monkey neurophysiology studies, these are the best measures we have.
A typical dictionary deﬁnition of a “straw man” is this: “To argue against a straw man is to interpret someone’s position in an unfairly weak way, and so argue against a position that nobody holds, or is likely to hold.”... A good example is self-interested preferences. This preference speciﬁcation is clearly not a straw man because that simple form of preference is actually used in many types of analysis... Furthermore, belief in self-interest is not a position nobody holds because it is often clearly espoused...
Our paper “The Right and the Good: Distributive Justice and Neural Encoding of Equity and Efficiency” is out ahead of print at Science. The paper version is scheduled to print on May 26. BTW, for Chinese press releases, it would’ve been cool if they put 许明 instead of Ming Hsu. It’s somehow jarring to see sentences like “Ming Hsu及其同僚应用功能性核磁共振”. But of course nobody asked me.
In case I get
berated by the librarians for having a potential
security hole, I used the Mac’s keychains to manage
the username and password. So now you can input the
password once instantaneously rather than wait,
input, wait again, input again, wait yet again,
click...., you get the point.
I have received a couple of emails about the above very cool looking alarm clock (original link), including one from someone in Romania wanting to import it. Unfortunately it is a different, and clearly more artistically gifted, Ming Hsu who designed it. So please contact me if you know that Ming Hsu, since he might be missing out on a fair chunk of cash money from this confusion.
My first reaction was just how much rarer this type of criticism has been over the past 3-4 years. It used to be quite commonplace. I suppose people have either gotten bored of repeating themselves or have changed their minds (probably the former :p). I remember Ken Binmore told me while I was on the job market that, in the 70s, many economists thought game theory was preposterous. On the other hand, the suggestion that I migrate to another field is quite ironic given the reputation of “economic imperialism”.
"As a professional economist, I winced as I read your aticle [sic]. I'm afraid that this type of "research" only shows how weak some aspects of our discipline have become. Unfortunaltely [sic], too many economists take the view that they are qualified to study anything under the sun. Forget about wether it has to do with prices, output or equilibrium. These days "economists" are "studying" everything from autism to how the brain processes information. I think that these people would best serve the discipline by migrating to another field. We have (medical) doctors and bioligists [sic] for studying these sorts of topics. If it really interests them then perhaps they should consider making a switch to a medical field. After all, as economists, wouldn't they agree with the principle of specialization? I know how most economists would react to a bioligist [sic] trying to explain the movement of interest rates (think crackpot). I shudder to think how medical scientists would react to these sorts of "economists" that you discussed in your article."
My second reaction is, it’s “biologists”, good god!
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