Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the power of negative thinking

Last summer, Thierry Malleret and I published an Op-Ed in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune about the power of negative thinking

We took quite a different approach to the media treatment the Greek crisis received providing behavioural insights from psychology and neuroscience. Among other points we stressed the sort of default "binary" thinking mode most of the people spontaneously adopt and our strong tendency to favor explanations that do not challenge our beliefs:
"Although our brains do not function biologically in a dichotomous fashion, binary thinking is the brain’s favored method, as it is easier to categorize events in terms of success/failure, cooperation/competition, rational/irrational, etc."

"We tend to form opinions by falling back on intuitions or hunches and then look for confirmatory evidence to reinforce these. When someone confirms our views, they are reinforced in our brain’s reward system. Hence, we seek further evidence to validate those views, shutting off contradictory information."
Interestingly, the Japanese tsunami and subsequent crisis has also illustrated the power of negative thinking. And something tells me that the upcoming presidential elections (in France and the US) will provide even more examples of the power of negative thinking in slightly different context ...

Our NY Times Op-Ed can be read online here or downloaded (pdf format) here.

Thierry Malleret is a senior partner and head of research at IJ Partners one of the world's leading ealth management company based in Geneva.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the mind reader

When I was in Australia to give a keynote address at the Future Summit, I had the opportunity (and the pleasure) to be interviewed by the great Michael Short. I had a delightful time discussing animal spirits, emorationality, how the use behavioral and brain sciences could help improve prevention in public health (our national report on this topic can still be downloaded for free here) and even electronic music.

A pdf version of the article published nationally in Australia on September 20 can be downloaded here, the online version is here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

standard economic theory as a social norm and an anomaly?

Nudge co-author and behavioral economics leading light Richard Thaler gave Berkeley's Dicusssions with History a very nice interview. This conversation is a great introduction (or reminder) for people who are (or not) familiar with behavioral economics, social psychology, nudges, libertarian paternalism, economical anomalies, save more tomorrow, the power of facilitating people's life, default options etc.

Among the topics Richard addresses are "anomalies", i.e how standard economic models fail to predict most of our behaviors. I know I am not being very original here, but it always strikes me that what economists refer to as "anomalies" are actually what everyone else would call "real life"! Are there people that consider seriously our daily/usual/real behavior an anomaly?

Of course the framework under which this anomaly tag is to be considered is the standard neo-classical economic models and the fact that most of our behaviours do not fit with and in their predictions. But even if behavioral economists and psychologists  have shown repeatedly how "anomalies" are not anomalies per se but quite the opposite, we are still calling them this way. Bottomline :
  • Standard economics is a social norm in itself, providing a great illustration of how powerful these norms are at (self-)maintaining their influence: Everytime we use the term anomaly in its economic sense, we somewhat strenghten this norm!
  • Given that most of our behaviors cannot be predicted by standard neo-classical economics, isn't a theory that considers people as rational maximizer (selfish, immune to social influences, with unlimited knowledge and will etc) the true anomaly? ;-)
Now that I made those slightly provocative statements, enjoy Richard's words and do not hesitate to let me know your feelings about all of this.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


At the end of April, I was invited to speak at Yale University at "The power of disruptive ideas" conference. The conference was an intense two-day exchange on various topics ranging from fractals to astronomy, finance, psychology etc. I loved it.

It was good to finally attend talks by (and sometimes have the opportunity to chat with) Robert Shiller, Benoit Mandelbrot, Peter Salovey, Michael Cappello and Laurie Santos. On day one, I participated to a panel discussion on neuroeconomics with Shane Frederick, Keith Chen and Laurie.

Laurie's work on how monkeys behave and make decisions in economic settings is remarkable (click here to visit her website), I hope you can take a couple of minutes to watch her recent talk at TED Global.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

embodied entrepreneurship

We have a new book chapter published in "Neuroeconomics and the firm" a book edited by Angela Stanton, Mellani Day and Isabell Welpe (browse the book here and download our chapter here). 

This is what Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith wrote about the book: 

"This volume brings together leading researchers from a variety of fields to investigate the concept of the firm from new perspectives arising from neuroeconomics. The traditional theory of the firm has focused on the strategic, operational and resource management objectives of the firm as an organization. This timely and informative book explores new horizons in the biology of human decision-making and behavior, including uncertainty, entrepreneurship and ethics as it affects the functioning of the organization.

Monday, June 14, 2010

global agenda report

Last year I joined the World Economic Forum as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Decision Making and Incentive Systems chaired by Richard Thaler.

We met in Dubai during the Summit on the Global Agenda from november 20 to 22, 2009 and spent three days of fruitful interactions. It was good to work with other people interested in applying behavioral sciences to public policy.

The 2010 Global Agenda Council Reports book is now published. You can download it here (pdf, 353 pages)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

workshop on cognitive aging

On june 8, we organized a workshop on cognitive aging at the Center for Strategic Analysis as part of the "Neuroscience and public policy" program of the Department of Social Affairs. Vincent Chriqui, executive director of the Center, gave the opening speech stressing how important of a public policy issue cognitive aging is. He introduced the directions the report on aging the Center will publish next month will follow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

interview on ABC radio's Life Matters

An interview I gave to Life Matters a science show hosted by Richard Aedy and broadcasted internationally by ABC radio. We talked about the hopes and limitations of using neuroscience and neuroimaging in public health prevention. At the end of the interview we also discuss that more than a hundred companies worldwide (claim to) do neuromarketing. If they do so it is not for the sake of neuroscience per se but because they expect to get some insight from it. Hence, if neuroscience can help improving marketing strategies, then it should be considered in public health prevention ones. Interview website here

Saturday, May 29, 2010

future summit keynote

On may 24, I gave a keynote lecture at the 2010 ADC Future Summit. The title of my talk was "The promises of neuroscience". I discussed some of the work we are doing with my colleagues at the Cognitive Psychology Lab (Université de Provence) and Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences (Florida Atlantic University) on social coordination dynamics of brain and behavior, how they can be used in public policy. I also discussed some of the work we are doing at the "Neuroscience and public policy" programme of the Center for Strategic Analysis of the Prime Minister of France (including our most recent report on how behavioral and brain sciences can improve public health prevention, here).

Friday, May 28, 2010

business spectator interview

An interview, we did right after my keynote speech at the Australian Davos Connection's Future Summit, on may 24, 2010 in Melbourne (Australia). We discuss behavioral and neuroeconomics, the global financial crisis, emorationality and how neuroscience can improve public health prevention.

Full story in Business Spectator here

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ADC's future summit

From May 23 to 26 I was in Melbourne to attend the Australian Davos Connection's 2010 Future Summit. This summit is like nothing we have in France, unfortunately. Imagine hundreds of people addressing key issues to a country's Future through keynote lectures, concurrent sessions and nightcap discussions. Lots of interactions and open mindedness. I had a fantastic time.

Chairman Michael Roux invited me to give a keynote speech about the work we are doing on neuroscience and public policy. I will talk more a bout that in a different post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

computations, decisions and movement workshop

Before the Future Summit in Melbourne, I attended the Computations, Decisions and Movement workshop in Giessen (Germany) to present a poster of our latest experiment mixing social coordination dynamics and neuroeconomics. The event was organized by Nathaniel Daw and Julia Tommershäuser and included Paul Glimcher, Konrad Körding, Peter Dayan and Elke Weber to name only a few of the speakers. It was also good to finally meet Jörn Diedrichsen in person after years of reading each other's papers and to catch up with Richard Ivry
The workshop was very interesting as it allowed me to discuss with people on top of sensorimotor and decision neuroscience. Lots of great discussions and interactions. Workshop details here and pictures here.