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Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

I’ve received two new books on the relationship between economics and the brain. I soon discovered that they are quite different. While the first book definitely springs out from an economic point of view, is dry and scientifically speaking to the point, the other is written as a popular science book with several allusions, anecdotes and with an emphasis on the story itself.

Unless you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about Peter Politser’s “Neuroeconomics” and Michael Shermer’s “The mind of the market“. Both books are extremely attractive to both newcomers to the field as well as well established scholars. (I wonder who is really a “neuroeconomist” today, or anybody would call themselves this).

You’ve guessed right: Michael Shermer is the witty and alluding popular science writer that writes a book with such an energy and enthusiasm that one may become a bit envious. By drawing on life experiences as diverse as his old graduate rat-project and working with and developing professional bikes, Shermer tells the story about economics and the relationship to psychology, evolution and the brain in the most wonderful and inspiring way. One thing I found remarkable was Shermer’s ability to tell these stories in a coherent way. His digressions into his experience with bicycles got me wondering what this book was really about — a self-biography? — but I soon realized that Shermer had other plans. The idea was to present how markets and products are shaped in a way analogous to darwininan evolution (although the analogy is not complete). In a way, I think Shermer may have made a new topic of study: the evolution of markets and products, much in the same way we have seen the debate about memetics (i.e., how ideas are formed and evolve with time and within communities).

Peter Politser’s contribution could easily be seen as a dried out academic paperwork that, despite its few 150 pages, would seem endless to get through. However, if you appreciate a sober approach to neuroeconomics, with less stress on story telling and more weight on facts, theories and formulas, your inner academic economist will certainly cheer all the way through the book. And it did so for me, too. politser provides an interesting take on neuroeconomics, with what I see as an approach from the economists view. Thus, one could ask for the treatment of more neuroscience, but let’s see if there will not be a sequel, or another book with more stress on the brain side of things.

So which book should you go for? If this is your first try at neuroeconomics, Shermer’s a safe try. If you want to go straight to the topic, Politser is the guy. But why not do both? They are actually important contributions and may serve as each other’s refreshments in a combination.

-Thomas
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A recent book review (subscription required) in Nature Neuroscience looks at two new textbooks in cognitive neuroscience. One of these is the recent Cognition, Brain and Consciousness, edited by Bernard Baars and Nicole Gage. And two co-authored chapters by yours truly on neuroimaging methods. Just having your book reviewed in NN is a good cause for celebration itself, but the review is quite positive. In particular, the reviewers, Clayton Curtis and Lila Davachi, say

The authors effectively use conscious experiences as a tool to connect the various chapters on perception, attention, memory and executive control. Overall, the organization of the book is driven by psychological principles instead of by the organization of the brain’s functions, which one may find refreshing. Moreover, the authors provide summaries that place existing data into theoretical frameworks and even offer some hypotheses to be tested by future research. Although these theories sometimes go beyond the data and sometimes lack the detail to provide insight into mechanisms, they are thought provoking and will surely inspire students. As a shortcoming, some of the chapters in this first edition textbook are at times uneven in content because too little evidence is offered or the evidence is unbalanced. Compared with Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognition, Brain and Consciousness places less emphasis on animal research and relies to a greater extent on human neuroimaging and neuropsychology.

I think that is a fair and good review.

-Thomas

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figure1.jpgIs binding the single most important concept in neuroscience? I think it is, even without making the concept too general or vague. On the contrary, binding seems to be a general concept to understand the workings of the brain. No more need for modules of perception, cognition, memory and action. Binding is the solution.

More specifically, what is binding? Or, to reframe the question 100%: what happens when the brain works? To many, the brain binds information together at all levels throughout the brain. If you perceive an object, that particular object is a mixture between colour, form, position, movement etc., that is bound together. Because of you look at the early sensory processes in the brain, we know that the features of an object are treated by separate processes in the brain. Accordingly, they can be lesioned separately, leading to e.g. acquired colour blindless but with intact movement perception.

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books.jpgWhile Thomas is getting his kicks off at the SfN meeting in Atlanta I am toiling away at a number of long overdue papers here in the increasingly cold Denmark. I have several longer blog posts planned, but no time to write them. So, here’s three things to read in the meantime at other venues on the net.

First, John Searle reviews a new book on consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey, Seeing Red, in The New York Review of Books. I have always enjoyed Humphrey’s work, but his new theory on consciousness sounds plain weird (at least as retold by Searle; I haven’t read Humphrey’s book). In Searle’s words:

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Marc Hauser has new book out (Moral Minds, HarperCollins, 2006) where he argues that we should analyze moral cognition as a “universal grammar” along the lines of Chomsky’s programme for linguistics. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Hauser’s book yet, so I will refrain from commenting on it until I have (hint, hint, HaperCollins!). However, Richard Rorty has read it and reviews it in today’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. He raises a number of obvious questions – what qualifies as moral cognition?, what can we learn about moral behaviour from studying the brain?, etc. – which it would interesting to see Hauser answer.

-Martin

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The New York Book Review has a great review by Edward Ziff and Israel Rosenfield of three forthcoming books on evolution. What makes the review so great also is that it describes the development of the idea of evolution, from the feeble beginnings of comparisons between dolphin fins and bird wings, through Darwin’s theory of evolution, to the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory and the linking of genes to evolution, variation and reproduction. It’s a highly recommendable read.

-Thomas

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Today’s Science carries a review of what appears to be an interesting book. (I haven’t read it myself, so I am relying on the reviewer here.) The book is Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. It deals with political advertisements, and how they work to target voters’ emotions. Brader analyses how subtle cues, such as music or brightly coloured images of children, can frame the ads’ contents in specific ways. And, following this analysis, he argues that “enthusiastic” and “fear inducing” ads elicit different mental reactions in whose who watch them. In the words of James Druckman, the reviewer:

Enthusiastic ads motivate individuals to participate (e.g., willingness to volunteer, intention to vote), and once participating, these individuals are likely to become even more committed to their prior preferences. The implication is that enthusiasm leads to political polarization by pushing voters to take action on behalf of their prior convictions. Fear ads have less particiatory power – although to some extent they motivate sophisticated individuals. But, fear can open the gates of persuation, and these ads tend to cause individuals to consider new information and possibly change their political preferences.

I cannot see from the review whether or not Brader considers the now vast neurobiological literature on preference formation and decision-making. But it would be an obvious thing for political scientists to do so. In 2003 the journal Political Psychology (Vol 24, Issue 4) attempted such an integration but I am not sure it has had a lot of impact on political science yet. For the rest of us, the main lesson is to turn off the tube when those attack ads come on!

References

 

Brader, T. (2006): Campaigning for hearts and minds. University of Chicago Press.

Druckman, J. (2006): Stroking the voters’ passions. Science 312: 1878-1879.

Winkielman, P. & Berridge, K. (2003): Irrational wanting and subrational liking: How rudimentary motivational and affective processes shape preferences and choices. Political Psychology 24: 657-680.

Lieberman, M.D., Schreiber, D. & Ochsner, K.N. (2003): Is political cognition like riding a bicycle? How cognitive neuroscience can inform research on political thinking. Political Psychology 24: 681-704.

-Martin

 

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