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.
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.
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 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.
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