Archive for March, 2008

money-in-the-brain.jpgThe burgeoning field of neuroeconomics is on the rise, now with a few journal updates. First, let me introduce two new journals:

Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics

This journal “publishes original research dealing with the application of psychological theories and/or neuroscientific methods to business and economics. As an interdisciplinary journal, JNPE serves academicians in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, business, and economics and is an appropriate outlet for articles designed to be of interest, concern, and value to its audience of scholars and professionals.” The journal is published by the Association for NeuroPsychoEconomics

The journal has a number of high-profile academics, such as Tim Ambler, Antoine Bechara, and Baba Shiv. The first issue (now fresh in my hands) include four articles, of which the abstracts can be found here.

Journal of Neuroeconomics

Although this journal, which is to be published by the Society for NeuroEconomics, is not out yet, it holds the promise to become a second major player in the increased flow of articles on neuroeconomics. The journal will be published quarterly, starting in 2009.

Finally, as though separate journals were not enough, Nature Neuroscience — probably the most highly rated neuroscience journal these days — hosts a special section on decision making, aka neuroeconomics.

On the rise indeed.


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A unique opportunity to learn about contemporary neuroeconomics

We are writing to you in connection with the Conference on Neuroeconomics (ConNEcs 2008), which is going to take place at the Copenhagen Business School May 14-16, 2008. The conference is arranged by Center for Marketing Communication in cooperation with Hilke Plassmann (CalTech, US) and Peter Kenning (Zeppelin University, Germany).


The primary goal of the conference is to establish an international discussion forum for research on Neuroeconomics. Also the conference aims to look into how decision neuroscience can inform consumer and business research, and to illuminate how consumer behaviour is represented in the brain. We expect 150 participants comprising international researchers as well as various organisations and industries.

This unique conference gives you the opportunity to meet members of the most advanced, international research community working with neuromarketing, neuroeconomics and decision neuroscience research.

At CBS we are developing a Decision neuroscience project in corporation with Hvidovre Hospital. At the conference you will also learn about this research.

We recommend you to sign up for the conference.

Attached you will find a more detailed description of the conference including the conference program and registration form. You are also more than welcome to contact us for further information.

We look forward to hearing from you and please feel free to distribute the programme to interested parties.

Kind regards,

ConNEcs 2008 Organizing Committee:

  • Flemming Hansen,
  • Peter Kenning,
  • Hilke Plassmann and
  • Majken L. Møller


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NeuroethicsSeems as if Springer is making a good move on promoting their new journal, Neuroethics. As the message says, they will provide free access to articles during 2008 and 2009.

Well, THAT is something to celebrate. Here at BrainEthics, we will certainly follow the titles as they come, hopefully also comment on them, and even more hopefully so, to have our own contributions in this exciting journal!


Editor-in-Chief: Neil Levy

This journal will offer FREE ACCESS to the FULL TEXT of all articles during 2008 and 2009.

The first dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal focusing on ethical and philosophical issues raised by research in the sciences of the mind.

Start Reading:

Articles currently published in Volume 1

Introducing Neuroethics

Neuroethics and the Problem of Other Minds
Implications of Neuroscience for the Moral Status of Brain-Damaged Patients and Nonhuman Animals

Neuroimaging and Inferential Distance

Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage
The Chemicals Between Us

Psychopharmacological Enhancement

Neuroethics and Nanoethics: Do We Risk Ethical Myopia?

Will Working Mothers’ Brains Explode? The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism

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aniston.jpegHow specific — or sparse — is the neural representation of a memory trace? Quian Quiroga and colleagues now have an article in Neuron (PDF), where they describe their well-known studies using single-cell recordings to well-known faces. As you most likely know, this has given rise to the debate about the “Jennifer Aniston neuron”. Their findings, briefly put, have demonstrated that single cells show quite specific responses to very specific visual stimuli. While one cell may have a preferential response to the Sidney Opera House, another responds dramatically more to Hale Berry, while yet another cell responds to, well, Jennifer Aniston.

The Quiroga studies have re-iterated the debate (if it ever went dead) about how specific the neural coding is in the brain. Is it really so that the brain has such a specific code that one cell can represent one percept? Do we have a grandmother cell, a President Nixon cell and Marilyn Monroe cell?

Today, there is wide agreement that the one-cell-one-percept idea is untenable and unsupported by the literature. Rather than cingle cells, we see that networks represent a percept, rather than single cells. However, the findings by Quiroga et al. have nevertheless stunned the scientific (and global) community with regard to just how specific the neural code can be, and that it can be detected in a single neuron. The findings that we can record how one single neuron responds to one, and only one, percept, is quite surprising.

So forget about the grandmother cell, right? Or maybe not. After all, following the idea from these findings, we should not be surprised that there would in fact be one neuron that responded preferentially to our grandmother. Yes, it would be an expression of a “network code” representing our grandmothers as such, but nevertheless, you may in fact have that one neuron that responds to ol’ granny.

While we leave it at that, it is still surprising that this team of researchers use the term “medial temporal lobe” (or MTL for short). Why doe they say that there is sparse coding in the MTL? It’s a rather big region, and a region packed with qualitatively different regions. Not only are these regions different anatomically, but also functionally, they are thought to be involved in different functions. The perirhinal cortex is involved in processing (and encoding) of complex visual objects as well as novelty processing and working memory, the (posterior) parahippocampal cortex is involved in spatial processing (remember the parahippocampal place area). The entorhinal cortex has a medial and lateral part that deal with spatial and object information, respectively. And in addition to the hippocampus and amygdala, with their quite different functions, we may extend the MTL concept to include the temporopolar cortex, and maybe even the inferotemporal cortex.

Where in this complex system do Quiroga et al. find their sparse coding? Everywhere? My bet is on the perirhinal cortex due to its involvement in complex visual object processing. I’ve come to know that the researchers have not had structural scans available to determine the exact location of their electrodes. The scans have obviously been made, but they have not been able to use that information (hush hush, don’t tell anyone…).

So, while these studies are indeed important to our understanding of the coding of specific information, we’re left with a huge gap in terms of their anatomical properties. While most of the research community focuses on MTL subdivisions to an increasing extent, it is a bit puzzling to me that nobody have ever criticised these studies for their sparsity of anatomical information. Maybe I’ll be the first?


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protein.jpgEver wondered about the neurobiology of memory — how the brain stores information? And, if you know slightly more, how information is stored beyond the hippocampus, or what happens to memory during recall? If you have anything to do with memory — even having a slight interest in the topic — the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory now hosts a special issue on the role of protein synthesis in memory. The issue is packed with updates on the findings and controversies on this topic, and it is certain to bring you to up to date on the neurobiology of memory.

As the editor of this issue, Paul E. Gold, notes in his introduction:

The goal of collecting these papers was not to find a single clear view, laying to rest one alternative view or another—a rather delusional goal at best. Instead, the attempt was to provide a venue through which different perspectives could appear together, with the understanding that all contributors are interested in a common purpose, to identify the ways in which brains make and hold new memories.

So, this issue will probably prove important with regard to mapping out the agreements and disagreements. As Gold notes:

Across these papers, there is agreement on the basic findings. All authors agree that proteins and protein synthesis are important to memory formation, but disagree on the question of whether new protein synthesis specifically triggered by an event is important for the formation of memory for that event. Some of the alternatives suggested include protein synthesis needed to maintain cell integrity, to replenish proteins ‘consumed’ by plasticity mechanisms, and to provide particular proteins that might be modified by experience, with long-lasting modification perhaps themselves representing cellular memory.


The diversity of opinion collected in this special issue, and briefly summarized here, offers an opportunity for readers to examine how different researchers, each sharing a common goal of understanding how memories are made, can view the same data set and come away with disparate opinions. In this way, the readers may find this discourse useful in identifying the important questions, if not the answers, surrounding the roles of protein synthesis in memory.


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bloggingheadstv.jpgMichael Gazzaniga is one of the directors of a very interesting new neuroethics project, The Law & Neuroscience Project, supported finacially by The MacArthur Fondation. The aim of the project is to convene experts from a number of disciplines (neuroscience, law, philosophy, etc.) to discuss how our understanding of the brain impacts – or, perhaps, should impact – our current legal system. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I think we here at BrainEthics will try to investigate what comes out of it as the project progresses.

In the meantime, go to bloggingheads.tv and watch Carl Zimmer interview Mike Gazzaniga about the project. As always, Zimmer asks very good and thoughtful questions.


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neuro.gifIn May 15-16 this year, the Copenhagen Business School arranges a conference on neuroeconomics. According to the mission statement, the idea is to “provide an international discussion forum for research in the intersection of the psychology and neuroscience of decision-making and to set a stage for the presentation of recent contributions.”

I will give a talk entitled “Three new directions for neuroeconomic research”. The abstract is below. I can see form the other abstracts and talks that the contributions are most interesting, and there are many results that I expect will make it to the neuroscience journals in the foreseeable future.

So if you are interested in neuroeconomics, the neuroscience of decision making, and the relationship between brands, emotions and consumer behaviour, this is definitely the place to go this year.


Three new directions for neuroeconomic research


Cognitive neuroscience has recently contributed significantly to the improvement of models in microeconomy and consumer behaviour research. We here suggest that three recent development in cognitive neuroscience may lead to new and exciting fields of enquiry in neuroeconomic research. First, imaging genetics has provided detailed insight into how genes influence emotional responses and decision making in the brain. Second, studies of healthy ageing suggest that emotions and cognitive processes change with age. Finally, single-subject neuroimaging studies may provide new tools for finding neuronal markers for parameters relevant to consumer behaviour research, including emotional responses, preference formation and decision making.

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stresssmall.jpgYes, we’ve been! It’s therefore strange — and wonderful — to see that we are still receiving several hundreds of visitors every day. You are all welcome.

A brief update on our “missing in action”: Martin has been most busy analysing several paradigms, writing chapters and editing books. I’m sure Martin will send an update on these topics asap.

As for myself, things are changing dramatically this March: being assigned as a Senior Researcher at the Copenhagen Business School, and in charge of the newly established Decision Neuroscience Project, which is a collaboration between the CBS and the Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance. More to come about this, and relevant topics. In addition, as with Martin, several studies to analyse, chapters to write and an upcoming book on “neuroeconomics” (in English), if I may use that mongrel concept.

We’re hopefully getting back on track pretty soon.

Best wishes,


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