Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


Defining neuroeconomics

Here is a small anthologies of definition of neuroeconomics. I put some of them on the "Neuroeconomics" entry of Citizendium I recently begin to write.

The first definition, the older mention of the term "neuroeconomics", goes back to 1991. It was purely prospective, but it already defined the research agenda:

"Neuroeconomics is here defined as the study of the neural substrates, and associated mental phenomena, of productive and consumptive economic and socioeconomic behavior. Neuroeconomic studies could be carried out in fields such as economics, management science, financial theory, operations research, in the sociologies of work and occupations, and in the study of relationships between social class, class consciousness, and brain function. Other topics that could be extended to a neuroeconomic level of analysis would include rational choice theory, game theory, and the cognitive aspects of economic decision-making."(TenHouten, 1991, pp.390-391)

Zak's definition focuses on neural substrates:

"an emerging transdisciplinary field that uses neuroscientific measurement techniques to identify the neural substrates associated with economic decisions” (Zak, 2004, p. 1737)

Glimcher & Rustichini point to the convergence of disciplines:

“Economics, psychology and neuroscience are converging today in to a single unified discipline with the ultimate aim of providing a single, general theory of human behavior. (…) The goal of this discipline is thus to understand the processes that connect sensation and action by revealing the neurobiological mechanisms by which decisions are made". (Glimcher & Rustichini, 2004, p. 447)
From Neuroeconomist Kevin McCabe:

Neuroeconomics is an interdisciplinary research program with the goal of building a biological model of decision making in economic environments. Neuroeconomists ask, how does the embodied brain enable the mind (or groups of minds) to make economic decisions? By combining techniques from cognitive neuroscience and experimental economics we can now watch neural activity in real time, observe how this activity depends on the economic environment, and test hypotheses about how the emergent mind makes economic decisions. Neuroeconomics allows us to better understand both the wide range of heterogeneity in human behavior, and the role of institutions as ordered extensions of our minds.

My favorite one, from philosopher Don Ross:

“the program for understanding the neural basis of the behavioral response to scarcity” (Ross, 2005, p. 330)
It clearly draws a connection with Lionel Robbin's classical definition of economics as the “science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses” (Robbins, 1932).

  • Glimcher, P. W., & Rustichini, A. (2004). Neuroeconomics: The consilience of brain and decision. Science, 306(5695), 447-452.
  • Robbins, L. (1932). An essay on the nature and signifiance of economic science. London Macmillan.
  • Ross, D. (2005). Economic theory and cognitive science : Microexplanation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • TenHouten, W. D. (1991). Into the wild blue yonder: On the emergence of the ethnoneurologies--the social science-based neurologies and the philosophy-based neurologies. Journal of Social and Biological Systems, 14(4), 381-408.
  • Zak, P. J. (2004). Neuroeconomics. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 359(1451), 1737-1748.