Posts Tagged ‘Society for Neuroeconomics’

Computational neuroeconomics?

Computational neuroeconomics?

Neuroeconomists develop their own jargon, as it is to be expected from a consolidating community of scientists with distinct interests. But denominations, categorical classifications, and basic concepts in neuroeco are very much still in the early stages of their definitions – they have not been “blackboxed” yet.

“Computational neuroeconomics” is one of such terms. I was a bit tired of nodding to my interlocutors when computational neuroeco popped up in interviews, without being sure to understand how different it was from “not computational” neuroeco, or from computational modeling in cognitive neuroscience.

A first possibility was that it could resemble this class of models where connectivity of different brain regions is represented by an analogy with the architecture of a computer.  This is the kind of model used by Peter Dayan and Szabolcs Kali in a paper in 2004, who discussed memory storage and retrieval.

It could have also been the models inspired not by computer hardware, but by softwares: algorithm processes which demonstrate that starting with very simple building blocks and logical rules, an organism could  achieve complex cognitive tasks like letter recognition and other sensory to motor tasks.

But computational neuroeconomics seems in fact to represent an alternative, third possibility.  An entire session was devoted to it in the third day of the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroeconomics. It featured papers which were basically game theory applied to social cognitive problems. The language of game theory provides concepts  to think many useful parameters of behavior: strategies, payoffs, probabilities, types. As I understand it, the task of computational neuroeco is to operationalize those concepts. In the speeches of the session, it was interesting to see how the presenters navigated between mathematical sophistication, and constant references to pragmatic issues in social behavior: what theory of mind emerges from repeated interactions between players, or how risk minimization is accomplished through learning.

Is it a new approach in neuroeconomics? Not really. When one thinks about it, it is “simply” further work in a direction impulsed by Paul Glimcher and his collaborators since the very beginnings of neuroeconomics, when they introduced expected utility and then Bayesian Nash equilibrium in their studies of neurons in the LIP area for monkeys.  In this light, computational neuroeco appears to be at the very core of the new discipline.

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Darts and pool

This is the second annual meeting of the SfN that I attend, and this time I am there to do interviews and publicize an online survey on interdisciplinarity which I designed for neuroeconomists (are you a neuroeconomist? Drop me an email at clevallois@rsm.nl, and I will send you the link to it).

The program is remarkably different from the last year. Much less rat studies, and a lot of papers and posters on social interactions in humans. I am not sure whether it reflects an inflexion in the selection process by the organizing committee, or a new direction in neuroeconomics. A participant at the diner hinted that it merely reflects the changes in priorities laid out by funding agencies.

A few labs are overrepresented – Duke and CalTech; and the usual big names are all around. I could interview Peter Bossaerts, Colin Camerer and Paul Gimcher, and I should continue this series tomorrow.

For this evening, I hesitate between catching up with some sleep and fight the jetlag, or join the conference-sponsored dart-and-pool evening at the pub around the corner. Hm.

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And this is the last leg of the three-steps guide to neuroeconomics, dealing this time with neuromarketing.

It is useful to remark first that the identity of neuromarketing is still unclear: if you take the big-hit “Buy-ology“, neuromarketing seems to be a business venture driven by consulting firms rich enough to run fMRI studies.

But if you check the program of the 2008 Conference of the Society for Neuroeconomics, neuromarketing appears then as an academic field allied to neuroeconomics. They both deal fundamentally with decision-making in economic contexts, with neuromarketing focusing more specially on consumer behavior.

To see how it works, we are lucky enough to have a (fairly) non-technical, bilingual, audio and video presentation on neuromarketing soon available on the web, and in preview on this blog. You’ll see Britney Spears and Andre Agassi, and how their expertise can (or not!) influence your buying decisions.


It was Ale Smidts (director of my lab) presenting in Paris La Sorbonne,  last October. Just click and wait for the presentation to load:

Ale Smidts on expert power

[The paper presented is published in the current issue of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Dec. 2008)]

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