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In March, the Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny hosted a conference on the “Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics”. The list of speakers was pretty impressive. Luckily, the lectures were taped and are now available on You Tube. Here is a video with lectures by Antonio Damasio on emotion, Helen Fisher on love, and Isabelle Peretz on music. I will probably post some of the other talks at a later point.

-Martin

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Thomas + BecharaAntoine Bechara, the inventer of the Iowa Gambling Task, and together with Antonio Damasio the architect of the “somatic marker hypothesis” is visiting the Decision Neuroscience Research Group at the Copenhagen Business School at the moment. Here he is explaining to Thomas the role of gut feelings in making a decision to drink the bad CBS coffee or not.

-Martin

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Antoine Bechara (left) and Antonio Damasio

Antoine Bechara (left) and Antonio Damasio

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am currently giving lectures on an April course on neuroeconomics together with Prf.s Elke Weber and Eric Johnson. Needless to say, these lectures are probably as entertaining and useful for me, and my attending colleagues, as they are to the students.

However, change is coming to Copenhagen. Through our newly born Decision Neuroscience Research Group (homepage soon to come), we have additional high-profile researchers coming to Copenhagen to provide lectures and hopefully to be attracted to collaborations with us. In May, Antoine Bechara will be in our group for a couple of weeks. Bechara is well-known for his excellent work on decision making, and the role of emotions in decision making processes. Besides his decades of work on the Iowa Gambling Task, his recent publications are much about the role of the insula in emotions and decision making, in particular addiction. Therefore, our current project on loss/risk aversion in decision making (and in pathological gamblers) will definintely profit from his stay.

In the same vein, Copenhagen will see another great name in June: Antonio Damasio, who will become an honorary doctorate at the Copenhagen Business School. Damasio is well-known for his theory of (and work with Bechara on) somatic markers, and the role of emotions and the body in decision making. Recently, we have been attentive to his criticism to the discussion about mirror neurons, where he points back to his older papers on convergence-divergence zones in the brain, and how they may provide an alternative explanation (and a dethronement of) theories of mirror neurons.

This spring and summer, we therefore hope that anybody with interest in these researchers may consider coming to Copenhagen, even if it’s just for a brief visit.

The Decision Neuroscience Research Group is shaping up, and there is plenty of more to come.

-Thomas

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Just noticed this very attractive title by the Brafman brothers- The book, Sway — the irresistable pull of irrational behavior, “will challenge your every thought”, according to a NY Times review. And it gets similarly good reviews from other prominent people, like Michael Shermer, the author of the recent book The mind of the market, which I blogged about recently.

I found a couple of good videos on this book that’s good to share:

A longer version with more nuances can be seen here:

So after this, you get the idea: unconscious, automatic thought patterns act out and cause irrational behaviours, sometimes at the worst possible time and place.The questions raised are, of course, interesting and important. Why do we sometimes make horrific decisions, despite having all the information available to make better ones? Why do prominent people, like George W. Bush, suffer from loss aversion, leading to billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost? Because it’s “too late” to pull out? Because the pain of acknowledging defeat, error or insufficiency is bigger than the benefit of sparing yet more money and lives?

Other examples can be found at the Wall Street, military, aircraft captains, and even yourself. Maybe even on a daily basis. Taken together, the examples presented in these videos and the book demonstrate that we are all susceptible to make these kinds of errors. The next and better step is, of course, to identify these errors in ourselves (and others) and act upon them in time. Coaching, anyone?

I guess I should read the book, if the publishers will send me the book 8)

-Thomas

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If you didn’t go the HBM meeting this year you might be interested in hearing that the organizing committee now has put up most of the keynote presentations – for some reason, the talk by Michael Gazzaniga is missing – as well as all the talks from this year’s educational courses as podcasts. You can find them here.

The keynotes include talks by Mel Goodale, Mark D’Esposito (on the top-down modulation of FFA and PPA activation in visula perception), David van Essen (brain maps!, brain maps!), and Aina Puce (on social neuroscience). The educational workshops include talks on “Advanced fMRI”, “Basic fMRI/EEG”, “Diffusion Imaging and Tractography”, and “From Dynamic Modeling to Cognitive Neuroscience”. So, if you want to brush up your knowledge about neuroimaging methodology these podcasts offer a good opportunity.

By the way, I still plan to write a couple of posts about my impressions of the meeting. Stay tuned for that!

-Martin

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The New York Academy of Sciences runs a nice little website. Here, they offer a series of audio files with interviews and presentations which are available for download as podcasts. Recent editions I have enjoyed include a talk by Michael Schermer on his new book (on evolutionary approaches to economics) and a lecture by anthropologist Randall White on paleolithic body ornamentation.

Of the many, many interesting items – including podcasts with Steven Pinker and Craig Ventner, or Vittorio Gallese on mirror neurons and art – I want to highlight a recent edition which contains a highly interesting short presentation by neurophysiologist Donald Pfaff on neurobiological underpinnings of altruistic behavior. Pfaff has recently published a slim volume on this topic, The Neuroscience of Fair Play, which is notable for the fact that it deals mostly with very basic physiological processes underpinning motivational behavior – in contrast to most writings on moral neuroscience that (for good reasons) tend to focus on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the integration of emotion and cognition in moral behavior.

I plan to review Pfaff’s book later this spring, and also to write more on moral neuroscience.

-Martin

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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.

-Martin

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