Neuro Economics: Science or Science Fiction?

The growing use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) devices for studying decision making means that in 2007 we may hear a number of striking conclusions based on studies involving a small number of brain scans, says Jim Heskett. What are the more general implications of this trend? Will it have strong explanatory as well as manipulative potential for us as consumers, managers, and citizens?
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

Neuro economics is here to stay, according to a majority of those responding to this month's column. Its promises are too great to ignore. But it may be too early to know whether the promises will be realized in practice. And in the meantime, we stand warned against the hype that will be associated with findings based on research in need of standards and more fully-developed methods. Joseph Mello points out that "these studies will produce results along two lines. First, there will be … conclusions that can impact the 'tools' or processes a person uses to make decisions." At the same time, he adds, there will be "a new set of management and pop psychology books with dubious claims …."

Among the potential benefits making it highly relevant, according to David Skinner, is that "its output might just give us some new clues about why so many of the apparently unshakeable beliefs about change management … turn out not to yield the results we expect." Victoria Pynchon looks forward to the possibility that it will, for example, "give us surprising insight into our inclination to do one another good or ill." Roger Dooley noted that "self-reporting in surveys and focus groups is a limited tool, and I have no doubt that in the future brain scans will augment … traditional research methods."

But for Mark Spellmann, research of the kind associated with neuro economics raises "many interesting questions. One is, how do we interpret research findings when neurological results conflict with self-report? … knowing how the brain is working explains very little about what the mind produces—what we think, what we believe, how we make decisions." As Mike Flanagan puts it, "it might be nice to know that the decision was made on the right side or the left side of the brain. But this will never lead to deciding by a mechanical means, nor in predicting a decision outcome." There was even concern expressed about the efficacy of MRI-based research on human health.

Several suggested that it is hard at this point to assess the impact of this work. Dick Meza said that "it will have to run the gauntlet of peer reviews and further research …." Lorenzo Ferlazzo observed that "the current lack of standardized insights into behavioral stimuli and evolutionary asynchrony across global population types would restrict the validity of findings for some time to come." Biju Dominic offered the opinion that "I strongly believe that fMRI-led research into the brain is a top-down, far-too-simplistic approach …. But a bottom-up approach that gets into understanding the functioning of the brain … will be a slow but surer approach to understanding human behavior."

Others welcomed the possibility that this work may bring together economists, management theorists, and medical researchers. As Shann Turnbull put it, "The time has come for business schools to teach how to design, introduce, and operate network-governed enterprises using the knowledge of neuro economics."

Among questions this leaves us with are whether this research is valuable primarily in the aggregate or in individual cases. If so, just how long will it take for practical results? And will the early "wins" be sufficiently significant to foster longer term development in the field? Is it too early to tell? What do you think?

Original Article

Are you ready for "neuro everything" in management? The year 2007 will see a flood of books and articles describing findings and conclusions drawn from the growing use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) devices for studying decision making.

The research follows a pattern. It is based on increasing knowledge that different parts of the brain demonstrate heightened activity when subjected to challenges. Subjects are asked a series of questions (often requiring decisions) while their brains are being scanned (or while they are hooked to lie detectors). The work is being carried out at both European and U.S. universities such as Stanford, George Mason, and Amsterdam.

Among the propositions advanced from this work thus far, for example, are that risk and return are assessed in different parts of the brain, thereby questioning theories regarding expected utility on which a great deal of decision theory has been based up to now. Thus, according to this research, different qualities of, say, investment decisions are made when perceptions of risk or greed (return) prevail in terms of heightened brain activity. Another line of work involves the study of the best locus in the brain, conscious or subconscious, for making various decisions. For example, it is thought that more complex decisions involving hard-to-quantify factors are best made in the subconscious after some amount of preparation. That is, study the problem, sleep on it, and decide without further analysis. It's the type of decision making described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink. According to this line of thinking, questions involving more quantifiable, straightforward considerations are best answered in the conscious portion of the brain, presumably after considerable conscious thought. Work in neuro marketing at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich now claims that strong brands create more excitement in decision-influencing areas of the brain than weak brands, even for mundane products. Does this influence purchase decisions? Stay tuned.

Just how earth-shaking is this? After all, the late Milton Friedman was said to be most proud of his work with Simon Kuznets in which they concluded that people make purchasing decisions based on what they expect their incomes to be in the long-term, thereby mitigating the short-term impact on personal spending of events such as tax legislation. And Warren Buffett is fond of explaining his investment philosophy by saying, "We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy when others are fearful."

A lot of this comes down to knowing yourself, with or without the benefit of MRI devices. Are we about to be subject to a number of striking conclusions based on studies involving a small number of brain scans? Will there, as my colleague Luc Wathieu suspects, turn out to be other explanations for findings, for example, that question the value of rational, conscious decision making? What are the more general implications of neuro economics? Will it have strong explanatory as well as manipulative potential for us as consumers, managers, and citizens? Will it bring medical schools, business schools, and economics departments closer together? Or is it so far ahead of its time that we can ignore it for now? What do you think?

    • Harry J. Tucci Jr.
    • Marketing Analyst
    I am at best suspicious and probably more than a bit skeptical. I'm not sure that the brain scans, limited as they are in a study size, will tell us that we don't already know. Do we really need expensive medical studies to tell us that we make better decisions the fresher we are? We've known for quite some time that strong brands influence emotional reactions .... What the MRI will not tell us is how to create that brand. The studies seem to yield reactive instead of proactive information and therefore hold limited potential for expanding our field of knowledge.
    • Meenalochani
    • Organizational Consultant
    High-end technology in medical sciences is ok but using this for scanning the human mind to predict consumerism does not seem interesting. The most beautiful aspect of the human mind is that it is not predictable. The fact that we are diverse in our "thought scalability" and "individual discernment" is an excitement all by itself. Why do we propose to kill this whole excitement of marketing and ensure that it is lost by predicting every thought to the tee.
    • Bill Todd
    • Public Relations President, O2 Ideas
    It would be interesting to see what--if anything--is observable or measurable in terms of the effects of a moral compass on one's decision making. Surely one's sense of morality (right and wrong) is the root of all ethical behavior, and never has it been more important than now.
    • Joseph Mello
    These studies will produce results along two lines. First, there will be a set of conclusions that can impact the "tools" or processes a person uses to make decisions. Matching the type of decision making to the situations, and to a person's innate preference for analysis and creativity, can be beneficial.

    I think the other main outcome of this research will be a new set of management and pop psychology books with dubious claims on startling new success techniques.
    • Jonathan Scholl
    • Vice President, The Boston Consulting Group
    It's broader than what is being described. We know now what makes people take risk (and consider risk here not securities trading, but changing behavior to conform to new culture, new strategy, new markets, etc). Managers could benefit GREATLY from knowing how to get the "prone to take low risk" group to actually change ... to not resist ... by offering the stimulus and environment to maximize the probability that change will occur. It's a tremendously powerful tool for a manager whose job it is to create the change.
    • Victoria Pynchon
    • Commercial Mediator, Settle It Now Dispute Resolution Services
    I find all social science and behavioral psychological research useful in helping attorneys negotiate the settlement of their commercial litigation. This includes the fascinating field of evolutionary biology. I follow all of these studies with great interest in my negotiation blog:

    Many of the neuroeconomic (and neuro-everything else) studies simply confirm what we already know about ourselves. Some, however, give us surprising insight into our inclination to do one another good or ill.

    How exciting is it, for instance, to learn that the "joy" centers of our brains light up like pinball machines when we're collaborating with one another? How comforting is it to understand that our drive to succeed (me, me, me, me, me) is neurobiologically and neurochemically balanced with our desire to share (us, us, us, us, us)?

    Sometimes, these disclosures are enough to give us hope to proceed in a violently conflicted world. If the neuro-people can give us the hope we need to move from denial to action rather than directly to despair, we should welcome them with open arms.

    At bottom, the scientists and social scientists help us follow the bottom line requirement of all human endeavors -- Know Thyself.

    After that, it's up to each of us to decide what to do with that knowledge.
    • Robert Jones
    • Performance Improvement Consultant
    No doubt this research could provide valuable insights into marketing and decision making. No doubt this research could provide valuable knowledge for managers and change agents. I'm always excited by the possibilities of research like this. But it doesn't come without concerns.

    We should always try to remember that research such as this is valuable in the aggregate, not necessarily for individual cases. What's true for the majority isn't necessarily true for the minority. It's also important to consider the limitations of the research, such as sample size, how "decisions" were set up, population sample, etc. If we aren't aware of the limitations, we tend to assume what's true in the research is always true regardless of the environmental factors that are separate from the research environment.

    I would love for managers to know how to help people create positive and lasting change that is beneficial for both the organization and the individual. But giving managers this knowledge and expecting it to succeed presupposes that these managers are the right people in the right job. My own experiences have shown that relatively few managers are actually capable of assisting in this manner, because relatively few them are actually in roles that use their talents and abilities well. If we give the majority of them a tool like this, they'll use it like they do all the other tools we've given them . . . as a hammer.
    • David Knecht, CPA, CVA, MAcc
    • CPA, Milam, Knecht & Warner, LLP
    After reading the article on The Neuroscience of Leadership, I have started reading three books. David Rock's Quiet Leadership, Dr. Ratey's The User's Guide to the Brain, and Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz' The Mind and the Brain, Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force.

    Their writings are compelling and, I believe, exceptionally useful in many areas of life. Each author readily admits there is still much to be learned. That does not, however, preclude the drawing of certain, sometimes tentative, conclusions based on the evidence so far. Additional evidence may modify those conclusions; but thus is has always been. I for one am looking forward to reading the growing body of knowledge. I believe there is much to be gained.

    As business leaders, parents, and religious leaders, and in other walks of life, facilitation of individual change in self and others is one of the most important skills that can be understood and developed. I'll take all the help I can get on that front. Thank you to those who are leading the charge in this field, and keep it up!
    • JB Conner
    • Attorney
    The academic research may (or not) produce (or confirm) insights into decision making at a high level. Assuming it does, how do these high-level insights become relevant to practical use?

    The cost of fMRI certainly precludes conducting these kinds of studies for typical marketing research or consulting projects.
    • Joe Slezak
    • President, The STEM Group
    This is a fascinating field of reasearch. I believe that we will get some valuable information from it, but that it requires guidelines on interpreting what neural mapping shows. Can we get enough information where the MRI really shows how a "neuro-thought" pattern takes into account the impact of personal experience ... how it directly links to making a choice, or risk taking an action ... enough to reveal a general pattern for human thinking and decision making?

    These neural brain scans remind me of when I walked into the office of one of my senior college professors to ask a question. I would watch him commence a search through the over-filled shelves of his book and file laden office, probing through years of accumulated articles, notes, papers, cabinets, files, drawers, and scraps of information. And, after what to me would be a confused pattern of activity, he would always come up with the right enlightened answer.

    How he searches through what I consider "office clutter and confusion" is like observing that neuro MRI brain scan... you see a lot of flashes of activity in certain areas, you can't tell what is really going on, but in the end, you get a result.

    The professor has his own highly personal process honed through years of experience and habit. What I see appears to be flashes of random action in certain areas of his office. I really can't combine that action into an explainable pattern, but to the professor, it is a totally logical and effective system that gets the results he seeks. Go to five different professors and they will all have their own method for searching the "clutter" of their office that is also personally and perfectly valid in getting to their answer. And, in many cases we all manage our own personal offices, homes, and space in much the same way.

    So to say that we can chart neuro patterns in the brain as indicators of how logical thought occurs in relation to choosing, acting, and decision making is premature. We really need to understand the relationship between brain activity and how personal experience impacts the thought process to produce a resulting action. Where in those neural maps can we identify the impact of personal experience on prioritizing, screening, and selecting the right information to make a decision, choice, or solve a problem?

    There are many case studies on file in which a person has suffered a traumatic brain injury where part of [or] even half of their brain is severely damaged or physically destroyed. Yet, over time, the other half of their brain learns to take up the functions of the missing half, re-wires itself, and eventually the person can walk, talk, think, and reason as well as before. We really cannot explain how this occurs, other than to say that we all have a lot of extra brain matter we apparently do not use all of the time.

    Neural brain mapping is an interesting case of "what you see is what you get." Just like observing the college professor, what we see is that there is brain activity ... what we get is resulting action. But how it all combines into an "experientially based wiring and connection system" to produce this action is still more art than science, more evidence of diversity in personal learning and experience, rather than a predictable, definable scientific system.
    • Peter J. Gerber, HBS MBA '65
    Don't be so quick to experiment with complex and potentially dangerous medical procedures just to find a "magic bullet" that will make the complex and human act of decision making as easy and simple as a using a pre-packaged cake mix.

    MRIs require the injection of a powerful chemical contrast agent to enhance the images. The chemical is called Gadolinium. A Warning Notice issued by the FDA last month stated that in some individuals who receive MRIs, especially those with compromised kidneys, a debillitating and potentially fatal reaction to the Gadolinium may possibly occur. This reaction is called Nephrogenic Fibrosing Dermopathy.

    I should know. It happened to me.

    As result of contracting NFD following an MRI, I can no longer move my legs without difficulty; I have difficulty getting out of a chair or bed, cannot tie my shoes, require assistance with stairs, and cannot walk down my driveway to get the newspaper. My leg tissues are woody and hard, I do not travel anymore, and my lifestyle is severely limited.

    I am treated four times per month at the Stanford University Cancer Center with a complex, expensive, and time-consuming procedure just to treat the symptoms. There is no known cure for NFD.

    According to the Director of the Clinic, seven other patients are also being treated at Stanford for NFD. All are known to have been exposed to Gadolinium contrast dye injections during an MRI prior to developing symptoms.

    When necessary, MRIs can be a vital imaging tool for the detection and diagnosis of serious disease. To expose oneself and/or others unnecessarily to potentially dangerous and possibly life-threatening side effects just for the sake of learning how to sell a few more widgets is the height of folly and irresponsibility.

    I, for one, would happily trust all my future decision making to a roll of the dice if I could have my pre-MRI health back.
    • Warren Burns
    • Trader, Nedbank
    I received this [article] link from someone I spoke to yesterday in South Africa about the future potential of what I prefer to be labelled as neurofinance. The very short turnaround says a lot to me about where the impact of neuroscience will be in the investment banking and trading environment in viewing the future.

    People are often described to follow a herding mentality, but this has not often proven to be as stupid as it is made out to be up until the point of critical bifurcation. The more astute answer to evaluating investment decision making is to ensure you are not following because of ignorance. The essence to statistics and psychology, for that matter, is the reference to the "norm" and the very fact that most "constructs" would not exist without a differentiation from another construct. While this appears simple, I think neurofinance will give an edge to those who want to profile "intelligence" in making investment decisions versus typical "thematic" investing without a litmus.

    No field has conquered the nature of speculation and profit generation other than arbitrage focus and excellence. Perturbation, fractal geometry, power laws, spirals, and Poisson Distribution all help to define ways to view security analysis and momentum, but in essence I believe that only neurofinance will help reference how to improve the reference to a pivot point or aberration in a security market. Decision making is seen to work off dimensions (e.g., cognitive dissonance, dialectical thinking, perspective, resonance), but we need to mould emotional control (not inhibition) with focus, objectivity, and common sense in framing the challenge and outcome we seek.

    Neurofinance goes way beyond an MRI scan and a "tipping point" analogy of conscious and subconscious mind analogy. The gestalt of intellect, intuition, imagination, abductive logic, perspective, cycle consonance, modality, synchronicity, and wisdom is where neurofinance will assist in the convergence of human optimised decision making and market behaviour (opinion only).

    When we ask ourselves, "What is a market and what is value?" we ensure we are asking the right question. How do I profit from a market and not get sucked in is possibly of more value than defining why people make decisions. How to make a decision; how to craft a template and "quietness" to "big decisions" like buying a house, [and] allocating funds to a specific pension fund is all about adapting to the synchronicity of neurofinance and signals, pulse and value.

    Value is such a subjective construct, but when seen through the filter of neurofinance, there is the possibility of bringing greater expertise to portable alpha than luck and "coffee shop/dinner party" talk. Neurofinance in my view will bring about a better understanding of market timing and will drive a new paradigm in the world of wealth management.

    I am very excited about the future of this embryonic field, but I am not hooked on the gossip value of attributing decisions to various parts of the brain. The aeroplane has changed our lives, yet it remained part of the transport business. I hope neurofinance applies new principles of thinking, articulating, and anticipating the future to make investments sustainable, diversified, and sensible to those who apply themselves to the foundational truths of the field.
    • Joseph Yeager, Ph.D.
    • Chairman & Psychologist, Linguis-Techs, Inc.
    The fascinated parties will find the pieces of the work that they can turn to their self-interests. New claims of results will make headlines, controversies will flare, and the area will have a half-life similar to the "subliminal persuasion" phenomenon or "cold fusion." It will enjoy believers and cult-like status for a while, then gradually fade away when the emerging realization occurs that the parties have been kidding themselves. Real progress will take a back seat on the slow boat of solid research.
    • Aniruddha M. Godbole
    • Executive Assistant, A.V. Rajwade & Co., Mumbai
    I shall ignore it for now!
    • Flavius Chircu
    • Brain for Hire, Creire
    To the question: "Will it bring medical schools, business schools, and economics departments closer together?" I think the answer is yes, especially for the business and economics academic fields that have spent too many resources already on deciding what matters after the decimal point.

    As far as practitioners are concerned, I think you gave the answer with your following question: "Or is it so far ahead of its time that we can ignore it for now?" Just take out the question mark at the end.
    • CJ Cullinane
    The scientific study of any human process is a positive thing, including the mechanics of decision making. But I do feel that often we use the information to an extreme. We all remember "scientific findings" from the world of medicine that later proved to be not entirely correct. Knowing where a process takes place does not necessarily improve the process, but it will give birth to a lot of books and so-called experts.

    If the information gathered is used to improve our abilities and self-knowledge in a positive, systematic manner, we will be better off. If the new-found ability to map our neural pathways is used as an "end-all, be-all," we will just have another management fad.

    Economists and MDs have always used hunches and theories when attacking a problem (at least Dr. House does on TV). Will knowing what part of the brain they are using make a difference? I personally do not think so. Knowledge is a wonderful thing; just don't overreact to it. Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion.
    • Shann Turnbull
    • Principal, International Institute for Self-governance
    Neuro Economics has immediate application in designing the architecture of business firms and societal organizations in general. The research laboratories of British Telecom have quantified the rate at which human senses can receive data and so information, knowledge, and wisdom. Speech recognition scientist Ray Kurzweil has identified the rate the brain can process and store data and so its higher order activities.

    The limited ability of humans to transact data that can be measured in bytes explains why hierarchies are formed to reduce information overload for supervisors. Oliver Williamson explained the formation of multi-divisional firms as a way of reducing information overload for head office executives. Likewise, the decomposition of decision-making labor explains the competitive advantages of a modular organizational architecture analyzed by Harvard professors Carliss Baldwin and Kim Clark. One reason why European and Japanese multinational firms became more competitive than U.S. firms in the late 20th century as investigated by Michael Porter was because they decomposed into different boards, strategic decision-making labor from operating decision making.

    Jones, Hesterly, and Borgatti reported that as industry becomes more knowledge intensive and dynamic, competitive pressures force the decomposition of decision-making labor into different boards by establishing network governance. Network governance is another manifestation of modular organizational architecture where two or more boards govern activities. This is universally found in non-trivial, sustainable, stakeholder-controlled firms as reported in my PhD thesis available at:

    The time has come for business schools to teach how to design, introduce, and operate network-governed enterprises using the knowledge of neuro economics.
    • Mark Spellmann, PhD
    • Director of Research and Behavioral Psychology, Unit 7
    We have seen considerable interest in this area from our clients and our colleagues. It raises many interesting questions. One is, how do we interpret research findings when neurological results conflict with self-report? If a research participant is more (or less) excited/aroused, as indicated by an MRI or PET scan, by a creative execution than they report, which is the better predictor of consumer behavior? Am I more likely to act on my conscious self-concept (what I consciously tell myself about me), or by my unconscious excitement (or lack thereof)?

    This issue parallels developments over the past twenty years in psychology, where neurobiological advances have demonstrated that there is a brain underneath the mind. On the one hand, it is very illuminating, and exciting to see the focal areas of brain activity in normal vs. pathological states (e.g., depression, ADHD). These findings have implications for understanding the mechanisms of psychotropic medications, which can be very useful to the clinician in explaining the need for adherence to a dubious patient.

    However, knowing how the brain is working explains very little about what the mind produces--what we think, what we believe, how we make decisions. One reason for this is that thought is verbally mediated; therefore, the entire cerebral cortex lights up whenever a person thinks about something. So if a consumer decision involves thinking about something, it will probably very rarely be the case that consumer decisions are based primarily on the level of metabolic activity of isolated (and thus more localized) brain structures. But this is an empirical question, and we are excited to see what the data of this new wave of studies can tell us about the connections between brain and mind.
    • Fernando das Neves Gomes
    • Principal, independent
    Regarding one branding strategy, I think we already do it by instinct: the decision process to the promotion of one brand is supported by feelings.... Another aspect is our response and adaptation; if it's not new we don't react in the same way, so by that process the brand can do it one time; after that they have to find a new strategy that brings new feelings....
    • Mike Flanagan C.P.M.
    • Equip Purch Mgr, Safeway
    Agree with some of the other comments, in that it might be nice to know that the decision was made on the right side or left side of the brain. But this will never lead to deciding by a mechanical means, nor in predicting a decision outcome.

    In keeping with "Blink," my decision today was based on my environment of yesterday. And tomorrow's decision will be impacted by what happens today. As we all move through life, our decisions get influenced by our daily events, ever changing, ever learning.

    I know that some decisions are made with the heart and some made with the mind, and tomorrow, those decisions might be made with the reverse.

    Enjoy the column, keep it up.
    • Dohyun Ahn
    • Doctoral Student
    One of the great contributions of neuroeconomics in understanding minds and behaviors is that humans begin to consider major factors such as emotion and the unconscious as major ones that have long been ignored.
    • Pavitar Parkash Singh
    • HoD, Punjab College of Technical Education
    We can't predict everything. The human mind is too complex, the environment is too dynamic. Neuro economics is conducted in a controlled environment, where the brains are suppose to act independently, but how can we compare this with the realities of life, [with aspects of] the socio-cultural, economics, etc.... The environment acts on the human mind at all times.

    Yes, this work can take us to the first step of the ladder to purchase. But the process from the stage of need of a product to the actual purchase of the product is really a complex one. So whether it is a science or science fiction remains to be seen, as it is still in its infant stage to predict reliabilty of results in an actual environment.

    Also, every individual is unique so how can the needs and thinking and reaction of one's mind will be same as the others? To further this point, we can't put humans in reality to medication all the time to make the purchase or predict the human behavior, as predicted through neuroscience or whatever its application is in economics.
    • Prof. K. Prabhakar
    • Director, KSR College of Technology
    The need for medical and business schools to collaborate and have a neuro-dimension of decision making is long overdue. The brain as it has been understood for a long time as having a left side and a right side is questioned with research findings on the plasticity of the brain. Plasticity of the brain is the lifelong ability of the brain to change due to learning; or in other words, neural plasticity is the ability of neural circuits to undergo changes in function or organization due to previous activity. Armed with scientific research in brain science with the help of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, we can develop better insights into decision making. After going through different works by Dr. Gardner and brain research on learning, I strongly feel that the neuro-dimension has to be studied, researched, and internalized by management schools. We as managers try to understand the behavior analogous to a "power connection to TV": if the power is off, the TV will not function; if it is on, it will function. By just knowing the inputs and outputs, we cannot predict the process. We have to go to the fundamentals of brain research, and it is a great welcoming trend.
    • Biju Dominic
    • Vice President, Mudra ddb, Mumbai
    For the past ten years I too have been trying to understand the brain in order to understand consumers better. With that background I strongly believe that the study of the human brain will surely lead to a better understanding of all human behavior, including behaviour as a consumer, investor, etc. This study will also help us to understand how an innocent young man in a short time gets converted [into] a terrorist or why we all know the ill effects of smoking but cannot stop that habit.

    So study of the brain is not all about commercial issues alone.

    At the same time, I strongly believe that fMRI-led research into the brain is a top-down, far-too-simplistic approach that will not go too far in understanding the human brain, the most complex system in the universe. The belief that fMRI scans are an end in themselves for understanding consumer behavior is a farce that is propagated by some people to make quick monies and fame.

    But a bottom-up approach that gets into understanding the functioning of the brain from its basics will be a slow but surer approach to understanding human behaviour. Even with the limited understanding from this approach, one is able to question many of the holy cows of marketing theory such as the USP theory, etc. My thoughts are published in the Times of India and in I have focussed on this bottom-up approach in the "neuro marketing" course I take in some of the leading management institutes in India.

    So an fMRI-led approach to understanding consumer behaviour is a bit of a farce. But there is no doubt that the study of the brain in its totality will be the best bet to understand all aspects of human behavior.
    • Dick Meza
    • Adjunct Faculty, Chapman University College
    Too early to tell, Jim, whether Neuro Economics is science
    or science fiction, business fad, or science and myth. It will have to run the gauntlet of peer reviews and further research before any conclusions are drawn.

    Emotional Intelligence in the past few years has had to suffer through similar scrutiny like "The Fadification of Emotional Intelligence" or "Business Susceptibility to Consulting Fads: The Case of EI." Both positive and negative reviews eventually lead to four conclusions about

    1.) EI is often poorly defined and poorly measured.
    2.) The relationship between emotional intelligence and
    other concepts, including general intelligence, social skills, and personaity, is not adequately understood.
    3.) The most widely publicized claims about the relationship between EI and success in school, in the workplace, and in life are not supported and, in some important cases, are almost certainly untrue.
    4.) There are some reasons for optimism about the future of EI, but there is still a long way to go before this concept will come close to living up to the hype.

    Will Neuro Economics live up to the hype? We can only wait and see.
    • Scott Buchanan
    • Cognitive Science Student, Bob Jones University
    No matter what the results, I don't believe that conclusions from fMRI research will turn out to be "science fiction"; rather, the more significant question is whether they will be of practical value. Because traditional research methodologies in decision theory have been purely phenomenological and largely theoretical, the neuroscience perspective allows correlations to be drawn between established theories and actual brain activity. Because theoretical approaches can conflate phenomena with differing substrata, the empirical contribution of "neuro-economics" can bring fresh insight into well-worn problems.
    • Saraswathi Sirigina
    Mind Mapping and understanding thinking patterns is essential for predictive markets. Behavioral science has evolved over the years and tailoring the supply to meet the demand or forecasted demand becomes more systematic when we can use neuroscience to predict how an individual or a group of individuals react to a certain type of environment, change, or perception, and what the motivating factors are.

    Though MRI scans are not the be-all and end-all, any innovative mechanism could help. By movement of the eye, one could predict an individual type per behavioral psychology, or by the flutter of the hand or the shake of the lower lip one could determine a person's thinking pattern in some cases. That is how forensics evolved to identify and type-cast casual offenders from serial killers.

    To understand the mind and its different levels of thinking and how this determines choice, decision making is a continuing exercise many organizations are trying to master, and new techniques or technology in this area could be the prime movers in 2007.
    • David Skinner
    • Director, Leadership Systems Limited
    We have a client who often observes that concepts evolving in the study of human behaviour and processes should not tell us what to think, but rather should give us some useful ideas to think about.

    It seems to me that fMRI research can be dismissed cynically as "neuro-everything"--but, its output might just give us some new clues about why so many of the apparently unshakeable beliefs about change management (for example) turn out not to yield the results we expect.
    • Gaurav Modi
    • Relationship Manager
    If the study churns out some facts which we don't know already, it could turn out to be very exciting. In my view, the complexity of behaviour driving the patterns of spending and specific consumer behaviour can't be analysed effectively in a controlled environment. What "Blink" offered was the rationality behind subconscious decisions, and any study to understand "what goes on inside us" is always a good step. It might take a long time before these studies become effective, but it's a start which could be a giant step towards a new era.
    • Anonymous
    I find this article of academic interest, but my gut reaction is that it is sick and that such practices are just one more thing that will make consumers feel manipulated and, in the end, jaded, resentful, and suspicious.

    A few weeks ago I read that young people, aged 25-28 and under, are not receptive to traditional advertising and promotional messages--they hate to feel "sold to" and automatically tune out the signs, commercials, ads, pop-ups, and all of the other standard means to send a message. Well--ah duh!? Don't we all tune them out? No age limit required.

    It's no wonder when one is made to feel that many someones, somewhere in many cubicles, are pouring over reports late into the night, churning out schemes to squeeze just a few more cents from each transaction each day in an effort to increase revenue. Such short-term thinking--and the very thought of such an Orwellian metric as this--are the reason we're turning off and adapting better personal tools to ignore all of this clutter.

    This type of metric and the manipulation consumers feel each day from nearly every direction are sure to bring about a shift in the current thinking about marketing--the long-term brand loyalty among certain segments, especially those educated and higher-earning customers. If we find that rare company that truly cares about their customers, and provides a good value and long-term customer support, we'll stick with them. No MRIs required, just a little common sense.
    • Ali Al-Salim
    • Senior Investment Analyst
    On whether cross-collaboration between different areas of study will be facilitated: Yes.

    The increasing curiosity and cross fertilisation of ideas between different academic areas of research have already proven valuable and will only continue to. Traditionally art-focused approaches such as cooking have recently adopted chemistry as a novel approach to culinary development with molecular gastronomy at the cutting edge.

    Fascinating and exciting for us all as the pace of innovation and rate of growth of technology continues to compound.

    However, when you think about it, the basics are typically never contested. I think these [new] elements of knowledge are "incremental to the margin" and not the types that will turn things upside down.
    • Roger Dooley
    • Neuromarketing Blog
    I think there's little doubt that neuroeconomics (and the related field of neuromarketing) are real science. We are indeed slowly gaining a better understanding of how we make decisions. Where these fields go astray is when they are over-hyped, either in a negative ("marketers can manipulate your brain!") or positive ("we can revolutionize your marketing!") way.

    I don't see "super ads" emerging from this work. I do expect marginally better ads eventually, and perhaps avoidance of some really ineffective ads. This work could influence product development, too, by helping researchers understand what consumers really want. Self-reporting in surveys and focus groups is a limited tool, and I have no doubt that in the future brain scans will augment (but not replace) traditional research methods.
    • Malvin Bernal
    • Cosultancy Unlimited
    Scanning the brain to determine how and why we decide the way we decide is nothing more than an exercise in futility. Having access to the inner workings of our brain does not prevent anybody from making decisions that would lead to catastrophic events whether in business, government, or other institutional workings. Our history is fraught with varied examples of great minds gone haywire. Having the ability to scan the brain would not in any way prevent what is inherently evil. The only MRI that ought to be advanced is Morality Return Initiative. That in itself should be given its due premium.
    • Saraswathi Sirigina
    Another alternative viewpoint that I would foresee is a "Manchurian Candidate" who is mind-manipulated and mind-controlled just like a robot performing the functions or duties that they are assigned.

    Private agencies that could mind-map and tailor suitable products could almost pervert the mind into a certain thinking pattern, thereby creating an artificial demand and fulfilling it with an artificial supply .... One of the best mind-control instruments of change [and] decision-making that we have today is the Internet, as well as the television ....
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    It won't make any difference. It has already been proven that real "multitasking" doesn't exist ... yet many employment ads say, "Must be able to multitask." As long as managers and CEOs continue to abuse the human abilities to chase organizational "efficiencies" and the Wall Street projections, they will tramp upon any solid brain science. Many of the behaviors today in the workplace go counter to improving workplace morale and productivity. Do you honestly think an abusive boss will pay attention to brain science?
    • Ram Eranki
    • Vignani
    What's the purpose? When a device arrives that can be hooked up at the entrance of a store to scan the consumer's mind and then decide if a salesperson needs to spend/waste time on that particular person, the productivity of these studies is rather ephemeral!

    For all practical purposes these studies benefit only neuroscience experts who can decode more of the brain.
    It doesn't help businesses make any practical use of this research to make people buy more of something.
    • Jordan Tannenbaum, MD
    • Pediatrician, MBA Student
    I think the MRI is just another brain analysis tool, and thus we need to put this information in perspective. EEGS, Cat Scans, Pet Scans, and now functional MRIs have all promised to pinpoint the way the mind functions and the manner in which information is processed. Until we understand this process thoroughly, and in turn intervene and manipulate the brain (hopefully for the improvement of the patient), this is still an academic field.

    As an example, PET scans have revealed that ADHD is a deficiency in the left pre-frontal cortex. This has yet to lead to any new treatments for ADHD that are effective. Stimulants are still the mainstay of treatment.

    So until the research yields some tangible functionality, all we have are our sensory inputs and behavioral outputs, which will not change on the basis of an MRI alone.
    • Lorenzo Ferlazzo
    • FerFin LLC
    Perhaps one of the most relevant papers on this discussion is "The Case for Mindless Economics" by Wolfgang Pesendorfer and Faruk Gul (Princeton). The paper is recommended first reading. Jim Heskett's concluding question, whether the neuroscience notion is too far ahead of its time, is an important one, given that perhaps the technology necessary to safely implement and interpret current theoretical propositions is either insufficiently developed or constrained by limited parametric assertions.

    The body of work to date presents many compelling reasons to pursue practical research into evolutionary biology through neuroscience, yet my intuition (not scientific reasoning) compels me to conclude that the current lack of standardised insights into behavioral stimuli and evolutionary asynchrony across global population types would restrict the validity of findings for some time to come.
    • Mike Harding
    If we are to believe that these researchers believe in, and are excited about, the possible future of their research, and that the excitement creates heightened brain activity affecting the quality of the decision made when risk or greed is involved, can we believe that anyone involved is capable of rendering forthright, unbiased data and decisions?
    • Keith Jarvie, Ph.D.
    The reply by Peter Gerber is cautionary, and wisely so. While such technologies as fMRI are relatively non-invasive, they are still "invasive." An additional challenge relates to researcher responsibility in the event of unanticipated radiologic findings (e.g. evidence of a tumour in an otherwise asymptomatic individual). Such events can be anticipated in 0.5 - 2.0% of scans (see reference below) and require follow-up and appropriate medical care (see Iles et al., Incidental Findings in Brain Imaging Research, Science, 311 (5762):783-4, 2006).

    Similarly, I recall reading of a university researcher (see Nature 434, March 3, 2005) who found himself to be uninsurable after a scan taken "for interest's sake" identified an undetected tumour. If such diagnostic technologies are co-opted for the purpose of "reading minds," those doing the reading carry an immense responsibility for ensuring that subjects are not exposed to untoward risks or consequences.
    • Jennifer H. Smith
    • National Market Manager, South African Sugar Association
    I am very excited by the concept of neuro economics, neuro leadership, decision making etc. I have read some of the results from research into the effects of meditation on various parts of the brain and the impact was that I had something tangible to attach my personal experience of meditation to. If we can prove that certain decisions made by very "rational" economists and statisticians were actually a combination of various parts of the brain and that our emotional brain centers also play a role, this might go a long way toward bringing decision makers in different fields of business together in a constructive, synergistic manner which would result in better collaborative decision making.
    • Deepa S. Prabhu
    • Mumbai
    Whether it will bring medical schools, business schools, and economics departments closer together may be best determined by doing the trials and tests of MRI for decision making with the HODs or equivalents which will establish this so we don't have to conjecture.

    Maybe it is current events here that are uppermost in my mind today, as we are subjected to media reports of one of the biggest crimes in the country; but I for one will be intrigued by implications, if any, in the field of criminal justice and the justice system, euthanasia debates, medical and psychiatric treatment, etc., more than implications in areas of consumer and marketing behaviour. As consumers, managers, or citizens, are we dealing with healthy or damaged minds and bodies? Mens sana in corpore sano.
    • Graham Douglas
    • Founder, Integrative Federation
    Trying to apply snippets of information gained from one science (in this case neuroscience) directly to human decision-making is unsound. It results from our being trained mainly in critical thinking which is based on a centuries-old and inaccurate understanding of the human mind and of our world.

    A more accurate understanding of the human mind is emerging from extensive research in Mind Science in recent years. Mind Science draws on work from the brain sciences (which include neuroscience, immunology, and endocrinology); biology; ethology; computer science; social, evolutionary, and cognitive psychology; physics; anthropology; neurophilosophy (a new science established with a view to building a unified science of the mind and brain); linguistics; systems theory; complexity science including self-organisation, chaos, uncertainty, and emergence; the philosophy of mind; and the philosophy of science and evolutionary epistemology (a branch of philosophy concerned with the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge).

    Based on this work the human mind may be defined as the process of the trained living human brain interacting with the rest of the human body, which is interacting with its physical, social, and cultural environment.

    We need to apply Mind Science to improve decision-making. For more information, please see
    • Sunita
    • MBA (HR) Student, B.K. School of Business Mgmt.
    Neuro-economics is just getting started so it would be too early to classify it as science or science fiction. It still has to evolve a lot. It will definitely bring the different schools (medical, business and economics, and many others like politics) together to work out new ways and directions.

    It can provide more insight into behavior, but then we cannot actually tailor-make the marketing or other tools. Moreover, it's very costly. Each individual thinks differently, so it might not be that useful for manipulation; rather it might be somwhat useful for explanation.

    For those who want to go for it, use cheap versions of neuro-economics like measuring eye movements rather than scan brain modules.
    • Tonya Hoffman
    • Partner, Leading Minds
    There is undoubtedly the basis for applying neuroeconomics in the workplace.

    The challenge is to provide tangible training that makes use of these insights. Increasingly we are proving what we intuitively knew--there is a complex mind-body-brain dynamic. To our Western minds which rely heavily on scientific proof, we can now act on both intuition and knowledge, which is a powerful combination.

    We must now find the motivation for individuals to act on this knowledge, not just nod to it. When we apply the findings we will begin to make practical differences.
    • Hemant Rachh
    • Student, NMIMS, Mumbai
    In my opinion, the general implications of Neuro Economics may lie in the following areas:

    Understanding emotional linkages of decision making. This will bring a paradigm shift in knowledge-driven industries and may make marketers' jobs difficult and challenging.

    Exploring the reasoning behind "time inconsistency" in decision making or "quasi-hyperbolic discounting" coined by Harvard's Mr. Laibson to describe the behaviours.

    Improvement in individuals' lives by rationalising decisions in totality.

    Though application of Neuro Economics is more controversial than the subject itself, if research succeeds it will definitely bring new opportunities for human beings to become better world citizens. It will also help business schools' research departments to develop new social science theories and to introduce new curriculum for the next generation of managers.
    • Muder Chiba
    • Senior Vice President, TNS India
    This epitomizes what I call the "Hidden Persuaders Dilemma." How deep into the consumer mind is too deep for comfort? Most of marketing science has used either consumer behaviour or stated response, or derivations from either or both of them to help predict and drive consumer response.
    When we first started deep-diving into the "reptillian self" in order to help sell more, complaints surfaced that this "manipulation" of the consumer was morally incorrect.

    Over time, those techniques have become par for the course. There are probably far more happier and needs-satisfied people out there as a result of this. There is little comment. That's progress? I've been unable to come to a conclusion either way.

    Neuro-analysis for business will probably go the same way .... Care will need to be taken that it develops as a science first and is not overtaken too early by shamans ....
    • Margie Parikh
    • Lecturer, BK School of Business Management
    Prof. Heskett, I certainly do not call it "earth-shaking." It is a nascent science still in its infancy. I appreciate the way these researchers take their curiosity beyond speculation, but trust the humans: psychoanalysis did not lay bare the psyche, need hierarchy did not solve the human motivation problem, and the discovery of new medicines has not eliminated disease from the world. Let the science discover itself.
    • Akhil Aggarwal
    • IBM Corp.
    Medical research (like the subject neuro-economics) on brain activity during decision making is most certainly a step towards a scientific explanation that makes distinctions in the qualities and impacts of decisions made by several individuals on similar problems. Nevertheless, it is too soon to hope it will enable us to work on our decision-making ability, because medically enhancing such mental qualities as memory, appetite for risk, or ability to solve complex problems is, I believe, ahead of the current times.

    One's decisions are based on her priorities and principles, which are varied. Scientific study can observe the spot on the brain with heightened activity, but whether it can eventually result in developing exercises to enhance such traits is either highly doubtful or would certainly require a lot more work. If that happens, only then can the medical and business (and perhaps psychology) schools come together and help management, economics, and even art students and practitioners work on their specific skills.
    • Prakash Mahesh
    • Student, B.K. School of Business Management, India.
    Although the effort in this new direction is commendable and the incessant thirst of humankind to know and probe deeper is praiseworthy, neuroeconomics deals with only one dimension, i.e, economic decision making by individuals; and this limits its scope.

    Science has not been able to understand humanity in its collectivity and complexity; art is the clear winner over here. Neuroeconomics is moving in the direction of science, and its objectives are fine, but what about the multitude of variables that go into the individual decision making process: the impact of environment, culture, the conditioning of mind by religion or irrationality? Moreover, many people make decisions just because they are told to make decisions; they want to finish the process fast because they are not interested in the decision making process. Additionally, laboratory experiments are quite different from real situations, an example being pilot training given to pilots through simulation techniques. Real flying is a different experience altogether.

    Can all the variables of decision making be really defined? Can everything be defined in models? Is the interest in neuroeconomics just because we want to understand the consumer decision making process so that businesses can cash in on the opportunity? Can everything be defined in risk-reward dimensions?

    Science has told us how things work, but why they work is still a question to be answered. Neuro economics has to ask the same question to itself.
    • Ellis Baxter
    • CEO, High Fidelity SSS
    This is starter research. The possibilities long term are, well, who knows, but what if we could learn to alter the process, say for sex offenders?

    It is vital to continue to research everything even if at the time we do not know or like where it appears to be going.

    Understanding our environment and mind is just one more step in this journey.
    • Mark Earls
    • Herdmeister, Herd consulting
    A lot of sanity in the comments here.

    The one thing I'd counsel is this:

    Neuroscience has made a big contribution in recent years to how we think about the human behaviour that we all seek to shape - supporting principles like the emotional "wiring" of our minds (established, for example, in the work of cogntive psychologists like Kahnemann). However, it is still a long way from a behavioural science in the sense that most vendors (and their advocates) would suggest.

    By this I mean that the attempts to map the physical correlates of mental activity (neurological activity) are only at the end of the beginning at best (Susan Greenfield). "Very much work in progress" the Economist put it recently. And to make matters worse, we have only a mediocre understanding of the connection between individual brain activity and subsequent behaviour. Indeed, the link is unlikely to get much neater because human beings are not like robots or computers - an input-processing machine whose behaviour is determined by the inputs alone.

    To see why neuroscience cannot ever really help us, try to imagine a brain-scan which reveals activity typical of a subject exposed to a picture of a loved one (go to to see this kind of thing). Certain areas will light up on the MRI scan ....

    But what does this tell us about what this individual will do next or at some time in the future? Or about the relationship between the subject and their loved one? Or about human relationships at all? Or, heaven forbid, love?
    Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

    It can't because real life is more complicated. Rich, vivid, rewarding, and more complicated than management or marketing theory would have us believe.

    That said, the interesting thing for me about this current fad in a number of management fields is what it reveals about our existing ideas: we want to believe that things are this simple; that we can "lift the lids and see what's really going on"; that what matters to us is what matters to the folk whose behaviour we want to change; that we are frustrated by the cussedness and independence of the individual subjects who fail to cooperate or even just tell us the truth about what they do and why. (Marketing research is particularly upset at research respondents at the moment and this is why so many researchers and their clients are playing with neuromarketing at the moment.)

    We'd do better to examine our underlying assumptions - the ideas about human behaviour that continue to shape our practice in all branches of management science - and have a good think about them rather than waste much more time with contemporary neuroscience, its wires and its unhealthy extrapolations....
    • Carrie L. Burton, EdD
    • Principal, Productive Learning LLC
    Neuro economics is indeed science. But when the day comes that we can predict economic decision-making so scientifically, will not also the day have arrived when we have lost the true economic freedom to decide? Do we as humans desire to be predicted and controlled so wholly? Has consumerism and profit-making fallen so much into fashion that our greatest scientific tools can only be used for such purposes? Who benefits, really?

    As in all morally-rich scientific discoveries, our increased ability to uncover patterns of human behavior to the point a neuro-economist may perhaps desire seems only to defeat the purposes it has: to uncover ways to gain profit from or manipulate the behavior of others. How much true advantage could be taken from this knowledge without the awareness of those who are being manipulated?

    As with a democratic republic, neuro economics and all other brain-activity-based research will only have lasting benefit when they are used with an educated constituency ... or better yet, simply used to educate.
    • S. Ramachander
    • Consultant, Independent
    While the subject is fascinating, I am a little alarmed by one report of possible and very real ill-effects of intrusive procedures that expose the body to unknown dangers such as NFD. However, the study of our own thinking and how we make decisions and judgements has long been considered the last frontier of human knowledge, and no doubt any steps in this direction are welcome. To do this well, we must re-examine the ways of studying anything scientifically, which we have become so accustomed to. Does measurement and manipulation of variables represent the only way? Are there other ways of observing oneself, being conscious of what is happening to one's own thinking, reactions, emotions, etc? Is it possible for thought to observe thinking or do we need another agency or tool?

    These are the methodological issues that strike me as important as opposed to jumping to the conclusion that MRI and scanning and injecting stuff into the body that would help trace the inner processes are the best methods we have available. Economists and financial specialists must begin to appreciate that they are really operating in a not-so-well-understood behavioural science arena.
    • Leonard Novick
    • Strategy Director, Hemels van der Hart
    I find it a fascinating and fruitful area of research. I expect our understanding of how decisions are made can be enriched. In particular, it will be instructive to see the ways in which long and short term memory, emotions, and rational thinking interact and when various functions dominate in the decision making process.
    • Muhammad Farhan Janjuah
    • Manager Audit, National Insurance Company Limited
    In auditing a complex area, I first think unconsciously treating it as something gone awry. And then consciously assessing the likelihood of risks by going through the facts. In investment decisions now we consciously or unconsciously aim for the highest reward given the current scenario. I am not a medical student but agree that in complex scenarios or, say, in corporate governance, we are more cautious.
    • David T. Bath
    Speaking from my academic background in neuropharmacology, I am sceptical about the value of fMRI in many areas of marketing, apart from being able to infer whether decisions on specific and well-designed questions are predominantly concious or unconcious, or how long it takes to develop a decision. Let me give a couple of examples of complicating factors:

    The locations used for processing within the same individual may vary, especially for those high-functioning individuals recovering from strokes or for Alzheimers patients with high cognitive reserve (from lifelong habits of deep thought, cryptic crosswords, chess, etc) who shift processing to different parts of the brain after damage.

    Even without pathological states, normal processing is very different within the same individual at different ages. This is particularly noteworthy for the way risk is assessed in teenagers/young-adults versus mature adults. (Of course, parents might suggest that anybody between 15 and 25 is in a psycho-pathological state.)

    There are many reasons for fMRI differences between individuals. Perhaps the best known example is that the part of the brain that "lights up" in response to sexual imagery for most people is "lit up" in epileptics not in response to sex, but when presented with theological issues. This does not mean that epileptics have a fetish about holy scriptures.

    Cultural differences may be very important. The emotional response to various aromas investigated for marketing purposes (similar to color tones in shops) can differ significantly not only between "major" cultures (e.g. Asian vs European) but between French and American.

    The pharmaceutical industry now recognizes the potential of drug treatments tailored to individuals using broad criteria (race) or highly individual enzyme levels, and I expect that developing marketing strategies from fMRI will be even more complicated.
    • Sneh Asnani
    • Asst. Systems Engineer (Trainee), Tata Consultancy Services
    It is exciting to know about the latest research about "neuro everything" in management. It really makes earth-shaking the very thought that decisions can be predicted. But there are certain obvious questions that arise here.

    Can decisions really be predicted? If yes, to what extent?
    Is this so-called Neuro Economics of any relevance in the long run? At present it seems more like science fiction, far from reality.

    Every person reacts to similar situations in a different manner. This is because our decisions do not completely depend on quantifiable parameters like risk or return but are equally influenced by subjective factors like priority, morals, values, society ethics, etc., which are different for different people.

    The human mind is complex and unpredictable. Not every person posesses the same managerial skills or good decision making abilities. It is said that management is not only about an intelligence quotient but also about creativity and an emotional quotient. All these facts cast serious doubts on the authenticity of the results of such research.

    In my view, although neuroscience will be able to give us valuable insights on general consumer behaviour, it will not be able to predict it with 100 percent accuracy. If it does, then it will bring about a big change in marketing and sales.
    • Graham Douglas
    • Founder, Integrative Federation
    Prompted by the prevailing air of sanity this article has produced, may I elaborate on my earlier remarks, please?

    How we reason is not how we are trained to reason!

    Broadly, we tend to be trained in critical thinking. In educational institutions, at work, and even at home we train what may be called our Critical Mind. We train people to reason in a disembodied way as though our minds were symbol manipulators like computers, unconnected with the remainder of our bodies and our physical, social, and cultural environment. We train them to break problems down into parts, to put these parts into rigid categories with shared properties, and to manipulate symbols representing these categories. We train them to hypothesise using these rigid categories (thereby excluding all other possibilities) and look for a grain of the "truth" about these categories that is imagined to be "out there" in the "real" world and to justify that "truth" with propositions expressed in words or mathematical symbols joined together in accordance with the rules of logic. We train them to reason in a straight line towards a conclusion. We train them as though the way we justify our thoughts - in logical statements - is the way we reason. We dehumanise reasoning.

    In the light of the many advances in mind science it now makes sense to train our minds to reason integratively as well as critically. This can now be done. If one thinks of the "will" as the "faculty by which (a) person decides or conceives of himself as deciding upon and initiating action (mind consists of the understanding and the will)" (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 7th Edition) and relates that to basic human needs, one can develop the concept of a dynamic and multifaceted human will reflecting those needs.

    Regarding our decision-making as involving the balancing of this multifaceted will seems to me to provide a sounder basis for understanding human behaviour than the simplistic "fear and greed" or extrapolation from minute studies in one science or another that is de rigueur at present.
    • Deepak Alse
    • Project Leader, Wipro Technologies
    In the ever-increasing tribe of interdisciplinary research, neuro economics is the infant! While we shall celebrate its arrival, neither should we burden it with expectations nor label it "fractious." The sample size and variety of population in such studies will largely determine the quality of the outcome!

    Till the time that neuro economics can unravel the rationale behind the irrational, practitioners and quacks will both find their space on the pages of discovery!
    • Gaurav Goel
    • PGPX II, IIM Ahmedabad
    I would assume that the decision-making process of any human brain is very complex and that it depends on infinite parameters. Many such parameters are unique to each individual (for example, past experiences).

    Most of the early studies in neuro economics will try to find patterns that can be generalized to a wide range of situations. But eventually we may realize that there are too many parameters in this equation to predict a reliable result.

    I think that it'll be interesting to see innovative applications of neuro economics in the coming decades but I don't foresee a great variation in consumer patterns as a result of such applications.