Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


Are farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders ?

In previous work, Richard Nisbett and his collaborators suggested convincingly that Eastern and Western population have different cognitive styles (holistic vs. analytic). In a new study published in PNAS, he and his collaborators show how "ecocultural factors" (living in a farming, fishing, or herding community) influence cognitive processes.

It has been proposed that social interdependence fosters holistic cognition, that is, a tendency to attend to the broad perceptual and cognitive field, rather than to a focal object and its properties, and a tendency to reason in terms of relationships and similarities, rather than rules and categories. This hypothesis has been supported mostly by demonstrations showing that East Asians, who are relatively interdependent, reason and perceive in a more holistic fashion than do Westerners. We examined holistic cognitive tendencies in attention, categorization, and reasoning in three types of communities that belong to the same national, geographic, ethnic, and linguistic regions and yet vary in their degree of social interdependence: farming, fishing, and herding communities in Turkey's eastern Black Sea region. As predicted, members of farming and fishing communities, which emphasize harmonious social interdependence, exhibited greater holistic tendencies than members of herding communities, which emphasize individual decision making and foster social independence. Our findings have implications for how ecocultural factors may have lasting consequences on important aspects of cognition.


Dennett in Montreal

At the opening conference of the Summer Institute on Social Cognition, Daniel Dennett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University, will give a speech entitled "From Animal to Person: How Culture Makes Up our Minds".

This will be held on Friday 27th of June at 7pm in room JM-400. The address is UQAM, Pavillon Judith-Jasmin, studio théâtre Alfred-Laliberté, 405 rue Sainte-Catherine Est, (Berri-UQAM metro).

The poster of the event is available here.

Admission is free and the event is open to the general public. We highly recommend that you book your place in advance by sending an email to Should places still be available on the event evening, places will be given on a first come first serve basis.

Daniel C. Dennett is one of today’s most important and productive philosophers of the mind. He is the author of over three hundred scholarly articles and 12 books, such as Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.



According to the Society for Neuroeconomics, a first handbook of neuroeconomics will be published this year: all the major researchers will be there. Can't wait !

The first handbook of Neuroeconomics is being published by Elsevier Academic Press in association with the Society for Neuroeconomics, to be released in September 2008
The first handbook of Neuroeconomics, entitled Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain, is being published by Elsevier Academic Press in association with the Society for Neuroeconomics for release in September 2008! Edited by Society for Neuroeconomics board members Paul Glimcher, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, and Russell Poldrack, the book represents the first comprehensive survey of this growing field and should serve as both a permanent reference work and a textbook appropriate for use at the graduate level. The volume begins with a brief history of the field written by the editors and then presents 33 chapters divided into 5 major sections. These five sections are: Neoclassical economic approaches to the brain, Behavioral economics and the brain, Social decision-making neuroeconomics and emotion, Understanding valuation - learning values, and The neural mechanisms of choice. Each section begins with an overview chapter authored by a major scholar, and the book concludes with a similarly authored conclusion. The Nobel laureate Vernon Smith provides the first of these overviews followed by overviews from Douglas Bernheim, Antonio Damasio, Wolfram Schultz and Randy Gallistel with a conclusion by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. The book provides a historically rich exposition in each of its chapters and places a strong emphasis on describing both the accomplishments and controversies in the field. A clear explanatory style characterizes all chapters which seek to make core issues in economics, psychology and neuroscience accessible to scholars from all disciples. This volume will be essential reading for anyone interested in Neuroeconomics in particular or Decision-Making in general.


Ultimatum, Serotonin and Fairness

A new study links serotonin levels to Ultimatum decision: less serotonin is correlated with a higher rejection of unfair offers, suggesting that it "plays a critical role in regulating emotion during social decision-making"

[From ScienceNOW]

Deal or No Deal?

By Constance Holden
ScienceNOW Daily News
05 June 2008

What if your friend had a large apple pie but gave you only a sliver? Would you throw the piece on the floor in protest? Maybe, depending on your brain chemistry. New research suggests that such emotional decisions can be influenced by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Researchers have linked low levels of serotonin in the brain to various mental states, including depression and impulsive, irrational behavior. A team headed by neuroscience Ph.D. student Molly Crockett of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. wondered whether the neurotransmitter would affect how people play the ultimatum game, an experiment used by economists that shows how people's economic decisions are sometimes irrational.

In the game, a "proposer" is given a sum of money, part of which he or she offers to share with a "responder." If a responder turns down the offer as too low, then neither player gets any money. What the ultimatum game reveals is that even though a responder would always gain by accepting the offered share, he will sometimes cut off his own nose to spite his face, as it were, punishing a proposer by rejecting an unfair offer.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 20 volunteers and asked them to fast the evening before the game. The next morning, some of the volunteers were given a drink chock-full of every amino acid the body needs to make protein, save tryptophan, an amino acid from which serotonin is manufactured. The result, says Crockett, is that the amino acids rush to the brain, "crowding out" any residual tryptophan and creating a temporary shortage of tryptophan and therefore serotonin. Control subjects were given drinks that contained tryptophan.

Both groups then played the ultimatum game as responders. The lack of tryptophan did not affect the subjects' general moods or their perceptions of the fairness of an offer, the team reports online today in Science. It did, however, appear to make people more likely to reject unfair offers. For example, when they knew that they were being offered only 20% of the pot, 82% of the acute tryptophan depletion group rejected the offer over multiple trials, whereas only 67% of the placebo group did.

The research bolsters the view that rejection of an unfair offer is "an emotionally driven impulse," says Crockett. To heed more rational monetary considerations in the face of an unfair offer, she says, requires that you "swallow your pride"--or the sliver of pie--which is a form of emotional control.

The new work is "a significant advance" in understanding the neural mechanisms of how emotions impact decision-making, says neuroscientist Michael Koenigs of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland. Psychologist Ernst Fehr of the University of Zürich, Switzerland, cautions, however, that the paper doesn't really address which behavior is rational or irrational. Rejecting low offers, he says, could be the result of a rational calculation about the value of fairness rather than an angry impulse.


Two new books on neuroeconomics:

The Brainethics blogs discusses Two new books on neuroeconomics:

Peter Politser’s “Neuroeconomics” and Michael Shermer’s “The mind of the market“.

[You can find an excerpt of Shermer's book here]