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Decision Neuroscience: New Approaches To the Study of Social Decision-Making

By Alan Sanfey
University of Arizona, Psychology
March 19, 2009

Our lives consist of a constant stream of decisions and choices, from the mundane (will I respond to this e-mail?) to the highly consequential (will I marry this person?). The study of decision-making attempts to understand our ability to process multiple alternatives and to choose an optimal course of action. To date, the standard approach to experimentally examining decision-making has been to examine choices with clearly defined probabilities and outcomes, such as choosing between monetary gambles.

These methods have yielded many important insights into the nature of decision-making, however it is an open question as to whether decision models describing these individual situations can be extended to choices that must be made by assessing the intentions and preferences of not only oneself, but also of another social partner. This class of decision-making, namely those made in the context of social interactions, offer a useful window into more complex forms of decisions, which may in fact better approximate many of our real-life choices.

In this talk, I will present both behavioral and neural data from several experiments we have conducted in our laboratory, where we have used economic games to observe how players decide in real, consequential, social contexts. Results demonstrate that both financial and social motivations are prominent factors in choices made in these games, and that assessing these motivations at the neural level can be useful in constructing more complete models of decision-making.

Time and location:
Thursday, March 19, 2009
3:00 - 4:30pm
Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity
ISTB-1, Room 401