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The Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University is the brainchild of Dr. Gregory Berns, author of one of the most comprehensive books on dopamine presented in the way a layman can understand. (Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment)

The essence of Neuropolicy is: Collective decision making is political. But politics are biological.

For decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, and economists have studied human decision making from different perspectives. Although each has approached the problem with different theories and techniques, the basic question is common to many fields: why do humans make the choices that they do? And, given that humans sometimes exercise poor judgment in their decisions, what can we do about it?

Economists have developed simple theories of decision-making, for example, that are used to understand the movement of asset prices in markets. The basic theory says that people make decisions in such a way as to achieve outcomes that maximize their benefit. Although more mathematically precise, it has much in common with psychological theories that say that people tend to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Although these theories describe basic tendencies of all animals, they often fail to account for decisions in common circumstances. For example, when individuals must make decisions in which an immediate benefit must be weighed against long-term consequences, they usually choose immediate gratification. Diet and preventive health care often fall prey to this temporal myopia. So do retirement savings.

The idea behind neuroeconomics is simple. The brain is responsible for carrying out all of the decisions that humans make, but because it is a biophysical system that evolved to perform specific functions, understanding these physical constraints may help explain why people often fail to make good decisions.

Collective decision making is political. But politics are biological. There is ample evidence showing that human traits that we have assumed were socially acquired (like fairness and altruism) evolved because they provide survival advantages. Their darker counterparts, like xenophobia, also have biological underpinnings. Understanding how the brain makes decisions in collective settings, how it trades off individual self-interest against collective good, and what the brain’s physical limitations are may point to solutions that the usual ways of thinking do not. A recent study on fairness, for example, found that the right prefrontal cortex is responsible for judging fairness, and by manipulating activity in this part of the brain, individuals could be changed from spiteful to forgiving. Similarly, we need to understand how religious and political ideologies, which are abstract social values, become transformed in the brain such that they can subvert basic self-survival value judgments. That is one thing that is unique about the human brain: its ability to convert abstract ideas into actions with value (positive or negative).

Only by elucidating how our brains are wired to behave in group settings can we figure out solutions to problems of global impact.

Also See Gregory S Berns

Also See Neuromarketing Expert Russell Wright 

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