So far we’ve gathered that the level of activity in our Nucleus Accumbens shows our predicted values.

But can this can lead to actual financial decisions? Can we predict a person’s decision to buy a product based on their brain activity?

The answer is yes.

Our brain has an expected value – what it expects us to enjoy when it gets a cue like seeing our favourite chocolate bar in the shops. (That’s the point where we think “Yum that will taste good when I eat it”.)

shopping and brain

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

And so our brain buzzes with excitement, and this activity in the Nucleus Accumbens, leading to a purchase of the chocolate bar.

Conversely, when people don’t buy it, the activity is less – as seen below. We’re just not so buzzed to pay the cash for the reward.

 

NA firing rate

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

In Brian Knutson’s study using fMRI to predict financial choices, subjects were asked to press a buzzer when they saw a cue in order to receive money.

When that monetary figure was $5, the subject’s neurons fired more, but when it was $1, it fired less. So when the person expected to get more money, the brain showed activity related to what anticipated gain they thought they would get.

knutson monetary $5 test

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ at https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Most interesting was that the neurons firing was actually strongest before the actual outcome – i.e. in the anticipation of it.

knutson firing rate

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

So it seems we can’t quite help but buy that little black dress, great-smelling cake, refreshing cocktail or any other pleasurable experience we’ve had before.

We’re hard wired to prefer it, and act on that decision again. And again. And again.

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

Nucleus Accumbens where we choose what we want

Our Nucleus Accumbens. Where we decide to buy that little black dress. Full credits to Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

In this mini-series of Neuroeconomics, we look at purchasing decisions of consumers and how the activity in the brain can predict purchasing behaviour.

So it turns out we’re all a little bit hard-wired for rewards.

We love a little bit of  pleasure.

Our Nucleus Accumbens, located in the ventral striatum, does loads to help us choose what we want, when we want it.

It’s conveniently connected to the hippocampus (memory), frontal cortex (higher order decision making), amygdala (motivation and encodes potential costs of our decisions) and VTA which produces the all-important pleasure seeking chemical, dopamine.

So in short the Nucleus Accumbens (NA) is a hefty emotional calculator with access to good data to calculate values for our decisions.

What a perfect region to make some purchasing decisions!

Yes I love that car. But is it too expensive for my budget this month? And will it in my garage?

So how do we know there even is a relationship between our brain’s activity and us choosing pleasurable rewards?

Wolfram Shultz’s study in 2006 showed that the more the animal got their reward, the more the dopamine neurons in the NA fired. However, after a while they stopped firing when the reward was presented, and started to fire in anticipation of the reward. So it was expecting the reward.

expected

Full credits to Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

So our brain learns.

Show us a cue for the reward – like the smell of a cake baking – and the brain releases our dopamine in pleasure-driving mode.

The cake needn’t be eaten yet, but the cue kicks us off.

What does this mean for addiction?

Exactly the same thing.

Self-administered drugs  (e.g. cocaine, amphetamine) have been proven to hijack the dopamine system in animals and directly evoke a pleasant reaction by manipulating the pleasure system to mirror these expectant brain patterns.

So in short, our NA dopamine neurons will fire more when the person values something they know, even if they haven’t tasted it yet.

 

dopamine cocaine study

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ at https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

 

neuroeconomics series part 1

Neuroeconomics series part 1. Thanks to http://www.mybrainsolutions.com/ for the great image

In this LGM mini-series of Neuroeconomics, we look at purchasing decisions of consumers and how the activity in the brain can predict purchasing behaviour.

For those of you scratching your heads at home, what is Neuroeconomics?

It’s a ground-breaking new area of research that’s got psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists putting their heads together to try and understand the neurobiological mechanisms for decision making.

Luckily, everybody’s decision making process involves the same various stages: interpreting choice, evaluating choice, making a choice, and evaluating the results of that choice, all the while learning from that process.

If you don’t like the brand of cola you chose that last time, you will remember not to choose it again.

But if you did like it, what happens when your brain has to choose the next time around?

Well it seems your brain will encode a value to that cola, and that encoding will predict your decision next time you’re standing in front of the fridge (cool!).

decision making neuroscience

Full credit to Vasily Klucharev at the National Research University Russia. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

The problem is, values are completely subjective. Someone who values diet might choose cola by the amount of calories it has. Someone who is on a budget will choose the cheapest. Someone aware of their image might choose the ‘cooler’ brand. It all depends on your values.

So Neuroeconomics has its own measure of values called Neuroeconomics utility  – which measures the physical firing rate of neurons in your brain.

And this firing rate has a direct relationship to how hard you will work for rewards. The more you value something (like pleasure) the more your brain fires, the more you will choose to work for it. Make sense huh? But it can get a bit extreme.

dopamine rat study

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Olds’ study from 1958 showed how rats worked furiously to stimulate the pleasure centers of their brain, increasing the firing rates of these neurons. In fact it got so high, they died from the fun. Yep, collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Similar patterns have been shown in humans where patients ignore their own personal hygiene and family commitments just to stimulate their own pleasure centers. Ew. (Portenoy et al., 1986).

So what is this pleasure center? Well it’s called the Nucleus Accumbens. And it’s full of that yes-I’ll-have-another-glass-of-wine-thankyou-and-okay-another-slice-of-cake, pleasure-seeking milk, dopamine.

But more on that to come in part 2.

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

We are thrilled to reveal the new Little Grey Matters logo!

Courtesy of Christian Hogue at Lost In Space – the same crew who did Coldplay’s ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’.

Enjoy!

Brain Logo new final Twitter

Thanks to jamiewrites.blogspot for this image which reminds me of a very similar sculpture that used to sit on my Mum’s shelf.

In many parts of the world this week Mother’s Day will rightly celebrate a Mother’s love and dedication to her brood.

Given the many, many seen (and unseen!) tasks mothers do, calculating the hours of commitment and slog, and just thinking about the calamities of childbirth, the question does arise: where do Mums get their drive to raise a family?

Well, it’s kind of a drug. In fact a mother’s love for her child has an outrageously intoxicating effect on the brain.

Maternal love has been found to switch off the parts of the brain involving negative emotions and social judgement (in the right prefrontal cortex – that is, your right forehead area) and also deactivates the parts of your brain that produce fear, angst and aggression (in the amygdala – an almond-shaped structure found in the middle of your brain).

Maternal love also been found to switch on the very old, very primal parts of the brain that seek reward and pleasure and that are satisfied by in it the form of pure, straight dopamine – a very happy, “drive”-giving substance that gives exactly the same effects as a drug; pupils dilate, the heart races, and the body lets off streams of anxiety-quashing chemicals from just the hug from an offspring, or even by looking at their photo.

Interestingly for women, maternal love activates very similar areas of the brain as romantic love, with the exception of the memory area which activates more when looking at images of your hubby.

Also in maternal love, looking at pictures of your child causes your brain area associated with empathy to erupt in activity, (explaining the urge to take care of the infant), whereas in romantic love, empathy activity is caused in relation to touch (that is, women can understand the kind intention behind it).

Happy Mothers Day to all the women out there who bring so much happiness and buzz to all their children’s lives.

We can only hope we do the same for you in droves 🙂

doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.11.003

Overlap between activity of maternal love and romantic love. Romantic love red, yellow is maternal. LPF = prefrontal cortex (involved in social judgement), A= amygdala (involved in fear, aggression), PC= posterior cingulate cortex (involved in negative emotions), OP = occipital parietal (involved when seeing things e.g. photos of someone you love), MP = medial parietal (involved in empathy)

Read this original study here.

Brain connection maps The Connectome Project

One of the ‘connection maps’ from the Human Connectome Project, which shows pathways in the brain.

I’ll bet you think the brain is an ugly, fairly squishy grey thing that’s best not looked at too closely if you want to keep your dinner down.

Not so. Check out this positively beautiful set of 3D images of the brain released recently thanks to the Human Connectome Project.

Using powerful scanners and magnets that could power a nuclear submarine, the US scientists look for tiny particles of water travelling along nerve fibres to trace the major connections within the brain.

This exciting tech combines US and European brain research to accelerate our understanding of – and vision into – the brain.

Like the Genome Project, the Human Connectome Project will collect genetic and behavioural data from the subjects in order to build up a complete picture of the factors that influence the human brain and best of all the data will be released to the public and scientists in the coming weeks.

Read more about The Connectome Project at BBC online  and The Daily Mail.

brain scan image pathways

A ‘connection map’ which shows pathways in the brain

corpos callossum cingulum bundles hippocampus MRI scan The Connectome Project

A close-up of the centre of the brain looking back. The large green paths are the “cingulum” bundles, which connect areas of the frontal lobes that serve executive function with the memory center, the hippocampus. The large red bundle going left to right is the corpus callosum which connects the left and right sides of the brain.

brain image facial recognition the Human Connectome Project

Yellow and red regions show brain activations in the grey matter when subjects view human faces.

maths reading brain image the Human Connectome Project

Yellow and red areas are activated by a task involving listening to stories. Green and blue areas are more strongly activated by a task involving arithmetic calculations

The Human Connectome Project

A complete cross-section through the front of the brain, with cingulum bundles at the centre. A reduction in the number of fibres in the cingulum bundle which may be an early marker for Alzheimer’s disease.

temporal lobe speech language image

The brain pathways from an above view. The two green paths near centre are the cingulum bundles, and the two C-shaped green paths closer to the sides are major pathways of language, the arcuate bundles which connect the frontal lobes, where facial movements are controlled. The temporal lobes below is where sounds are processed, hearing interpreted, and utterances planned.

cortex frontal lobes cingulum bundles cerebellum MRI scan The Connectome Project

Side view of brain pathways, from the right. Far left is the visual cortex, connected by a large green bundle which connects to the frontal lobes. At centre, the blue vertical pathways serve voluntary movement, connecting the motor areas of the brain with the spinal cord and muscles. The green path at centre is the right cingulum bundle, here seen from the side. The cerebellum, which controls coordinated movement, can be seen at bottom left.

BBC’s most shared news stories in 2012. Full listing below.

A recent New York Times article aimed to shed some light on why we share the type of news that we do.

Through analysing the brains and emails/social posts of New York Times readers, it’s been found that good news is spread more quickly and more widely than sad news.

“Buzzworthy” articles were shared the most, which neuroscientists saw reflected in the brain activity associated with social cognition — that is, thoughts about other people.

“Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important,” says Dr Emily Falk from the University of Michigan.

Also of note, the coolest, most awe-inspiring science articles are much more likely to be shared than non-science articles, as you can see reflected in many of the ‘most shared’ news stories from 2012 to now:

The Guardian’s ‘Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’

BBC ‘Chocolate May Keep People Slim’

Daily Mail ‘Artist Turns Dead Cat Into Helicopter’ 

BBC ‘Driving School For Dogs In New Zealand’

BBC’s super-shared stories of 2012

Journalism.co.uk’s top 10 most shared news on Facebook in 2012

Yahoo!UK’s most shared news – live

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