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Oec Magazin (A1-b)

«What we want is to procure a set of instru- ments for characterising individuals.» Prof. Philippe Tobler as realistic as possible. But not everyone likes po- tato crisps.» The experiments have already revealed deci- sion making as highly complex and fragmented, with changes in differing circumstances. While the prefrontal cortex of the brain has emerged as a key area, «it’s clear there’s a network of regions in the brain involved, with different areas used for different things», explains Hare. The experiments can be further refined by administering drugs or electric brain stimulation that can either enhance, or impede, communication in different neural ar- eas. Making the decisions progressively more com- plex allows the team to model concepts, like al- truism, fairness or trust, which fall through the gaps in conventional economics, based on as- sumptions of wholly rational behaviour. The aim is to pinpoint the precise areas of the brain in- volved in the different types of decisions – to the extent of identifying specific neurotransmit- ters. «Using magnetic resonance and measuring electric currents lets us target brain areas selec- tively to demonstrate whether they are indeed the right ones for given types of decisions», says Ruff. «That in turn allows us to construct more realistic models, which are then used as the ba- sis for further experiments, enabling additional refinement.» The team has already found its re- sults have a high predictive value for which alter- natives humans choose – even after a volunteer arrives for a mere one hour session. «The predic- tions are not perfect, but better than chance», says Tobler. Characterising individuals Work into predicting human behaviour may sound potentially ominous for critics wor- ried about a looming Big Brother society. But improving analysis in optimising choices could potentially bring massive social benefits. In 2010, the Institute for Government, a UK based non profit group, produced its «Mindspace» re- port to help improve government effectiveness. The study examined how behaviour change theory could help to address policy challenges, like reducing crime, tackling obesity or en- suring environmental sustainability. «Today's policy makers are in the business of influencing behaviour – they need to understand the effects their policies may be having. The aim of «Mind- space» is to help them do this, and in doing so get better outcomes for the public and society», wrote the authors. The Zurich professors stress they see nothing sinister in what they are doing. «We’re certainly not designing tools to manipulate people. What we want is to procure a set of instruments for characterising individuals», says Tobler. «We’re trying to identify the biological mechanisms be- hind decision making and to see how those may change with context or time», adds Ruff. «All our volunteers give their consent, and all can stop whenever they want. Compare that to other ways of trying to gain influence over hu- man behaviour – like advertising. You can’t turn that off so easily», concludes Ruff. «There’s a network of regions in the brain involved, with different areas used for different things.» Prof.Todd Hare Todd Hare, Professor of Neuroeconomics, Department of Economics Oec. Juli 2015 15 Oec. Juli 201515