Friday, March 20, 2009

From cattle to cash: Money is on our minds

Cattle were the earliest version of money—not a highly portable form, granted, but a measure of wealth that was nearly universally valued.

Next came cowrie shells scooped from shallow ocean waters, metal coins, paper bills, and the gold standard. Cold, hard cash may have become more abstract, but our relationship to it—and to the idea of buying, selling, trading, and investing—is still highly emotionally charged.

“We did not evolve to sell derivatives,” says neuroscientist Dennis Choi, executive director of Emory's Neuroscience, Human Nature and Society Initiative. “That wasn’t a driving force in human evolution. Our system to weigh risks and rewards developed for different purposes.”

How and why we make such value decisions is at the core of an emerging discipline: neuroeconomics, which exists at the juncture of neurobiology, psychology, and economics. By mapping the brain activity of volunteers with technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) as they are asked to make controlled choices, scientists are able to peer beyond behavior into underlying thoughts and feelings.

Read more about Emory's pioneering efforts in neuroeconomics in the latest issue of Emory Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. There's a great Choi lecture on ITunes U from The Life of the Mind Speaker Series.