New York University neuroscientist and economist Paul Glimcher contends that the key to understanding the nature of our decision-making process is to combine methods from the social and natural sciences. In Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis (Oxford University Press, Oct.), Glimcher outlines how neuroeconomics, a relatively new academic field, can provide insight into many of the fundamental features of decision making that have previously eluded scholars working exclusively within neuroscience, psychology, and economics.
While the field of neuroeconomics remains controversial among neuroscientists, psychologists and economists, research in this area has shed light on the motivations behind decision making, such as why people overbid in auctions or what influences depositors’ runs on banks’ holdings. Previous scholarship has also offered neurological explanations behind existing economic theories. In a 2004 study published in the journal Neuron, Glimcher and Michael Dorris, a former NYU colleague currently at Canada’s Queens University, found evidence for the neurological basis for the theories of John Nash, the Nobel-winning economist who pioneered game theory.
In Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis, Glimcher argues that because neuroeconomic research is well underway, it is time to formally develop a foundational approach for the field. He does so by laying the philosophical and empirical groundwork and integrating the theory of choice and valuation with the relevant physical constraints and mechanisms.
The book covers four primary areas: the central philosophical issues that neuroeconomics must engage; what is known about the choice mechanism—the physical structures in our brains that actively select among the options available to the chooser; the neural circuits for the mechanisms by which we learn, store, and represent the values of the many options from which we choose; and, a description of a new model for human choice behavior that encapsulates the key insights from current research. In the latter, Glimcher combines studies from computer science and neuroscience with frameworks from economics to provide assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of modern economic theory.
Glimcher is a professor in NYU’s Center for Neural Science and the departments of Psychology and Economics. He is also the director of NYU’s Center for Neuroeconomics, one of the leading centers for neuroeconomic research in the world today. He previously authored Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics (MIT Press, 2003), the first book on the subject and winner of the American Association of Publishers’ Medical Sciences Book of the Year Award, and lead editor of Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain (Elsevier Academic Press, 2008), which won the American Association of Publishers’ Social Science Book of the Year Award, among other works.