NEUROTOPIA

Where brains are always on the menu! Serving up a heaping portion of the latest neuroscience news, plus a side of social commentary expertly seasoned with action potentials and cognitive functions. Garnished with general thoughts on science, ethics, and evolution. For dessert, enjoy a sickeningly-sweet understanding of human behavior!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Neuroeconomics

The following NPR program link delves into the ramifications of "neuroeconomics", or the study of economic decisions made by the brain. While I despise the term "lizard brain", the program does a good job of highlighting the fact that our more "emotional" paleocortex does a fairly good job of mucking up sound economic rules and decisions made by our more "rational" prefrontal areas.

As one gets older, rational prefrontal centers become less efficient, but unfortunately there is not enough time in the radio program to discuss how shifts in decision making relates to, say, advertising or social security. For example, too often I hear so-called conservatives accuse "liberals" of stating that people are incapable of making rational decisions and thus must be taken care of. While such sweeping generalizations/false dichotemies do nothing to further dialogue, both sides have to consider the consequences of the other's argument. As the truth often lies somewhere in the middle, one has to consider that as people age, the unfortunate truth of the matter is we may be less able to act on what is actually in our best interests even though we may be perfectly capable of determining what our best interests are. In other words, emotional decisions may override our best intellectual endeavors. As such, fiscally sound social insurance programs that are scaled to income do make sense, at least to those of us with functioning prefrontal cortices. We know we can't predict every financial hardship, for instance having our pensions cut because the airline we work for can't get itself in the black... even with the help of corporate welfare.

One might also notice that good advertising plays to this very mechanism of overriding our best interests. For instance, we know that Hummer H2 is bad for the environment, bad for our wallets, and very bad for whoever you sideswipe when the wheels snap off at highway speeds. Yet that impulse to buy one persists and sometimes wins out, to the detriment of your retirement plan.

Feed your lizard brain at this link.

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