An introductory paper describes a new field of study that combines neuroimaging techniques with behavioral economic experiments to learn how people make decisions.
The approach, termed neuroeconomics, brings together psychology, economics, neuroscience, and computational science.
Neuroeconomics is a relatively new field that examines the decision-making process of healthy individuals.
For example, an experiment may involve a gambling task where individuals must repeatedly choose between two options, one considered risky and one safe.
The corresponding brain activity occurring during each choice is recorded and analyzed, allowing researchers to study and understand the underlying processes of those decisions.
In healthy individuals, investigators study optimal decision-making strategies. However, in psychiatric populations, studying alterations in decision-making can provide insights into the neurobiology underlying “real world” functional impairments.
Carla Sharp, Ph.D., comments in an editorial that “neuroeconomics provides an interdisciplinary platform for researchers to study reward-related decision-making as it relates to psychiatric disorder across multiple levels of explanation.”
Individuals with these disorders tend to respond differently to rewards and losses, which includes how much value they place on immediate versus delayed rewards, and even how choices are altered based on the potential size of the reward.
Experts believe neuroeconomics provides a framework to study these differential patterns of decision-making, which theoretically, could later be used to develop improved treatments.
Neuroeconomics may also advance psychiatry in a larger way by promoting the development of a new classification system based on linking pathology in brain systems to behavioral disturbances.
This approach may aid a new system highlighted by the National Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan that identifies the need for “new ways of classifying mental disorders based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.”
If successful, this approach can extend the field beyond the categorical classification system that has been used for decades to diagnose and study psychiatric disorders.
“Neuroeconomics is one of the hottest areas in cognitive neuroscience. We are extremely pleased to have leaders in this field discuss its important implications for psychiatry,” said John Krystal, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry.
The paper is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.