Recent improvements in medical imaging and measurement techniques have enabled significant new research in the study of the nervous system and the brain. These improvements have powered a number of investigations by psychologists that seek to address social behavior problems. As a result, there have been a number of studies and findings from cognitive psychologists focused on understanding how we decide.
Brain neuroscience research is seeking to advance models of decision making in complex, interactive environments. Some of this research has begun to cross disciplines, making use of behavioral experiments, along with mathematical theories from economic and operations research, such as Game Theory. Research articles are plentiful, but some recent New York Times Bestsellers, such as Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) and Nudge (Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein), are integrating some of the studies with creative anecdotes, making it easier to gain practical insights.
Brain neuroscience is helping to reveal the biological constraints on complex decision making, as well as overlaps with other basic brain mechanisms. This work provides evidence that can help improve current decision making models by informing economic approaches with identified neural limits. Here are some of the important findings:
Many of the decisions we make are made as part of a group. Brain neuroscience is providing greater insight into the influence of emotions when choosing in a social context. Studies are also helping to identify mechanisms that cause us to diverge from the classical rational choice model.
Insights coming from the research include:
Two significant models have developed, with one suggesting that the brain works as a single integrated system. The second model proposes the brain has two systems that often generate a conflicting choice that is ultimately resolved through another mechanism. Evidence, so far, provides support to both models, suggesting that these models need additional clarification.
Generating broad application can be a challenge as much of the research is directed toward narrow and specific topics. As an example, one research paper I reviewed focuses specifically on analyzing the differences in neuropsychological performance on financial decision making based on the effects of age and gender.
Here are some suggestions based on my investigation.
Brain neuroscience is continuing to try to uncover the mechanisms that affect our thinking processes and enable more predictive models of behavior. Success in these investigations should lead to improved effectiveness for group decision making efforts.
Sanfey, Alan G. "Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience". Science 26 October 2007: Vol. 318 no. 5850 pp. 598-602 DOI: 10.1126/science.1142996
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