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Neuroscience and Behavioural Economics

Neuroscience and Behavioural Economics

Are neuroscience and behavioural economics related?

 

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Oh, it’s all related, everything is related. You know, it makes me think back to Aristotle. Aristotle, before we even thought about brain science, was talking about logos, pathos, and ethos, which is exactly that, the logical, emotional, and the ethical, if you like.

 

And Aristotle was also talking about how we persuade people, he talked about a lot of things, but also how do we tell stories that persuade people. And he said we need to persuade them not just logically, but we also need to persuade them emotionally, and we also need to persuade them with their sense of what is right, morally right, or fair.

 

And so the other, for me, fascinating piece about the brain is that the same centre that is our centre for emotions and where you find this little piece jumping up and down about fairness, is also the centre for storytelling, the same bit, the same part. Right? And where does that take us? Well, we know that in making decisions the emotional part of the brain and the rational part of the brain work together, they work seamlessly together. So emotions are really an integral part of rational decision making. Right?

 

We know that. We also know that we have this little bit in the brain called the amygdala, and when it gets stuck, our rational brain, we don’t really get access to that and emotions flood the brain in a fairly irrational and unproductive sort of way. And then we talk about flight and fight responses and we know about that.

 

Now if you think about people in conflict and people in a situation where they might have been in a fight or flight response, and you’re asking them to talk about it again, think about the stories they tell. I know you’ve been talking to other people about narrative theory, and people usually talk about a type of melodrama. Right? That there’s the villain and there’s the victim, and it’s good and bad. And at the end of the day, that’s fight and flight. Right?

 

So it makes sense that storytelling is wired into our brains because we’ve been doing it ever since the beginning of human existence, that’s how knowledge passed on before we learned to document everything. But it’s not just a cultural thing, it’s wired right into us. And it also makes sense that it’s in the same part as our emotional centre because that informs the patterns of our storytelling.

 

So all of the information we’re learning now about how emotions work with decision making, with behaviour, also informs us about how we should expect people to tell stories, and how we need to try and intervene to encourage them to look for more or tell more productive stories. And I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but it’s all connected.

About the mediator

Nadja Alexander is an award winning author and educator (2011, 2007, 1997) and a conflict intervention professional. She holds professorial appointments Australia and the United States and has taught mediation at universities and in corporate settings all over the world. Nadja is an independent adviser on mediation policy to national governments and international bodies, such as the World Bank Group. She has been engaged in the field of confl... View Mediator