Feature

Are people more likely to make impulse purchases when they’re hungry? What brain structures are most involved when people make bad stockmarket bets? And why does growing up poor cause some people to be misers and others to be spendthrifts?

Answering tough questions like these requires collaborations among psychologists, neuroscientists and economists, says Daniel Houser, PhD, the new co-editor of the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics. Houser, along with co-editor Bernd Weber, MD, hope their journal can provide a home for such important cross-disciplinary work.

“We’ve experienced a behavioral economics revolution where psychology and cognitive neurosciences have been recognized as very important in helping us refine and advance various economic theories of human decision-making,” Houser says. “This journal is meant to be, in part, a forum for work that provides new insights in these areas.”

To make the journal a comfortable home for crossdisciplinary research, the editors will put together special issues on cross-cutting topics such as neuroeconomics, the influence of emotions on decision-making and the effect of neurological diseases on economic behavior.

The pair have already caught the eye of Econlit, the leading abstract service for economics publications, which recently added JNPE articles into its database — a move that should draw more economists to the journal, Houser and Weber say.

As an editorial team, Houser and Weber know about crossdisciplinary collaboration firsthand. Houser, an economist, studies behavioral economics at George Mason University and Weber, a neurologist, studies individual differences in economic behavior at the University of Bonn in Germany.

In addition to working together on the journal, the scientists are collaborating on a project to understand the neural factors that affect whether we choose to trust another person to act in our best interest, such as a seller on eBay. So far, they’ve found that when deciding whether someone is trustworthy, the brain quiets distracting emotions through increased activation in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex. In contrast, the brain can keep emotions at bay during other kinds of economic decisions by taking a more cognitive route, through increased activation in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. This line of research provides new insight into why — and how — being duped by a charlatan is so upsetting, and how our brains have evolved to avoid being tricked.

“For years, neuroscientists, psychologists and economists tried to solve research questions in their own way,” Weber says. “With JNPE, we have a new way to bring everyone together — to advance the science of human decision-making in ways we’ve never had available to us before.”


Christen Brownlee is a writer in Boston.