A look at the brain: neuroscience comes to finance/econ/business

Neuro science helps us to look at how the brain operates. The more we know about the brain, the better we can understand how people make decisions and SOMETIMES Why.

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    A look at the Brain

    We begin our journey with a visual representation of the brain. <br><br>"On assignment for Psychology class, Jackson Mohsenin set out to create an infographic that displayed &amp; explained the major sections of the brain and their functions. The brain is extremely complex, and thus the goal was to communicate just enough without overloading the viewer with information."

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    The history of brain research

    While today we have many cool and relatively high-tech tools to study the inner workings of the brain, such was not always the case.  For many thousands of years looking inside of a functioning brain was very near impossible.

    So study of the brain was focused on the rare cases of brain injury (imagine a person got hit in the head and subsequent behavior changed), the effect of certain "drugs" on thought, and postmortem dissections. 

    On the shoulders of giants (Thanks Isaac Newton!)
    That does not mean the brain was not studied, only that it was more difficult and less precise than brain study today.  There are many (trust me I have spent hours reading them for fun) online timelines that give a historical perspective to how far we have come.   Two of my favorite historical examinations are:

    • A timeline from Eric Chudler of the University of Washington that goes back thousands of years.  The level of detail for any given "event" is low, but very interesting and a great starting point. 
    • The History of the Brain from PBS covers the same material (that's good right!?) but has a bit more description and pictures. 

    There is a noteworthy exception to this general view that our ancestors could not look inside the brain.  There is substantial archeological evidence that the many so-called primitive peoples performed actual brain surgery.  The exact reasons for this surgery (called Trepanation) varied and are somewhat speculative, but evidence does go back to near 6000 BC of such surgery and in at least some cases the evidence suggests the wounds healed so we can assume there was at least some success in the surgery.  Here is a description from PBS .  That said, I can not imagine the pain of such surgery.

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    Brain research today

    Today we have many ways to study how the brain works.  At the risk of oversimplification there are five main ways of doing this:

    1. Surgery-- an estimated 650,000 brain surgeries are performed each year (so if an average day over 1700 are being done today) for the treatment of a wide range of health issues from traumatic head injuries, Parkinson's, seizures, cancers, to strokes brain surgery.  In addition to treating the problem, these surgeries also give us a look at how the brain works.  For more on brain surgery see: Medline, the National Institute Of Health, if you prefer see a video of an actual brain surgery (not for squeamish), or Brain-Surgery.com's Introduction to Brain Surgery.  (PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!)
    2. CT scans and PET scans-- both of these methods use xrays to study how the brain works.  The problem is that they are both relatively expensive and expose the patient (scanee) to some radiation.  A Ct scan: From WebMD: "A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures inside of the body" and a Pet Scan (from the Cleveland Clinic): "A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a unique type of imaging test that helps doctors see how the organs and tissues inside your body are actually functioning. The test involves injecting a very small dose of a radioactive chemical, called a radiotracer, into the vein of your arm. The tracer travels through the body and is absorbed by the organs and tissues being studied"  For a good comparison of each see differen.com
    3. EEG-- Electroencephalography (EEG) measures electronic impulses within the brain.  This is done by having the person being studied wear a series of sensors on the scalp (often done with a "skull cap")  Pictures here.  The benefit of this is that it is MUCH cheaper and relatively fast.  
    4. fMRI--Functional Magnetic Imaging.  The current state of the art.  This examines blood (and oxygen) flow within the brain.  We will cover this more in a video, but a great description is available from PsychCentral: "Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity – when a brain area is more active it consumes more oxygen and to meet this increased demand blood flow increases to the active area."
    5. Blood tests--these measure levels of various neurotransmitters in the blood.  The most important of these include Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Dopamine.  

    The next few tools "Slides" will cover these in more detail.





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    Zeman TV Interview EEG Brain Scan Tech NeuroAccelerator.org: Brain Activity and Video Games

    EEGs have been around for over a century (<a rel="" target="" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroencephalography#History">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroencephalography#History</a>) but still offer a very useful (and relatively inexpensive) look at brain activity.<br><br><br>Dr. Philip Michael Zeman describing how researchers at the University of Victoria have been using MOST-EEG brain scan technology to investigate how people's brains function while they navigate in the 3D 1st-person perspective videogame.

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    Brain scans 'provide clue to leadership skills'

    Look who uses EEGs! "LONDON, England (CNN) -- A U.S. professor claims he has identified the parts of the brain that help to make someone a good leader. Pierre Balthazard, an associate professor at the Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, also says he can use neuroscientific techniques to help people improve the skills that play a part in leadership."

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    A video of our Dean Pierre Balthazard : Fox News Story ASU Leadership Research

    A research team from Arizona State University has been engaged in a unique research project. Academics have studied leadership for decades. But leadership remains an area of relative mystery because so much of it is associated with cognitive and emotional response. A new multidisciplinary approach is called leadership neuroscience.

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    fMRI: Christopher deCharms: A look inside the brain in real time | Video on TED.com

    Neuroscientist and inventor Christopher deCharms demonstrates a new way to use fMRI to show brain activity -- thoughts, emotions, pain -- while it is happening. In other words, you can actually see how you feel.

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    Amazing uses of fMRI: Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain'.

    VERY little finance per se, but so interesting I had to include it: "A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain. It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care."

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    Good or bad, we may soon be able to Read Your Mind

    Neuroscience has learned much about the brain's activity and its link to certain thoughts. As Lesley Stahl reports, it may now be possible, on a basic level, to read a person's mind.

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    Colin Camerer: Neuroscience, game theory, monkeys | Video on TED.com

    When two people are trying to make a deal -- whether they're competing or cooperating -- what's really going on inside their brains? Behavioral economist Colin Camerer shows research that reveals just how little we're able to predict what others are thinking.

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    Watch now: After Newtown | NOVA: Neuroscience of Violence | PBS Video

    While there is some evidence linking violence in general to risk factors such as age, sex, substance abuse, and personality traits such as anger and impulsiveness, over many years, researchers have established that only a very small subset of people suffering from mental illness are likely to commit violent acts.

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    The Neuroeconomics Revolution

    Robert J. Shiller is Professor of Economics at Yale University: "Economics is at the start of a revolution that is traceable to an unexpected source: medical schools and their research facilities. Neuroscience – the science of how the brain, that physical organ inside one’s head, really works – is beginning to change the way we think about how people make decisions. These findings will inevitably change the way we think about how economies function. In short, we are at the dawn of “neuroeconomics.” Which will be our next tool set.

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    Toward an Affective Neuroscience Account of Financial Risk Taking

    To explain human financial risk taking, economic and finance theories typically refer to the mathematical properties of financial options, whereas psychological theories have emphasized the influence of emotion and cognition on choice. From a neuroscience perspective, choice emanates from a dynamic multicomponential process.

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    The Neurobiology of Addiction Part 1

    Uploaded by PHSTalks on 2012-04-03.

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    This Is Your Brain on Podcasts

    Listening to music may make the daily commute tolerable, but streaming a story through the headphones can make it disappear. You were home; now you're at your desk: What happened? Storytelling happened, and now scientists have mapped the experience of listening to podcasts, specifically " The Moth Radio Hour," using a scanner to track brain activity.

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    Secrets of the Brain

    New technologies are shedding light on biology's greatest unsolved mystery: how the brain really works.

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