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Neuroeconomics combines neuroscience, economics, and psychology to study how we make choices. It looks at the role of the brain when you evaluate decisions, categorize risks and rewards, and interact with other people.


Neuroeconomics & neuroscience

Neuroscience studies the nervous system, with broad areas such as the senses, movement, and internal regulation. Neuroeconomics is the subset that focuses on high-level concepts of personal choices and decisions, and how these are represented using our neurons and biochemistry.

Neuroeconomics & economics

Economics studies choice and decisions, with broad areas such as macroeconomics for large groups and microeconomics for individuals. Neuroeconomics is the subset that focuses on personal choices and the mental changes that correlate with the choices and may even cause them.

Neuroeconomics & psychology

Psychology studies thought and perception, with broad areas such as language, cognition, memory, group psychology and abnormal psychology. Neuroeconomics is the subset that focuses on thought about our choices, especially the cognition that happens when we understand our options and then choose one.


In a typical neuroeconomics experiment, a subject is asked to make a series of economic decisions. For example, a subject may be asked whether they prefer to have 55 cents or a gamble with a 50% chance of one dollar and 50% chance of nothing. The experimenter will then measure different variables in order to determine what is going on in the subject's brain as they make the decision. The simplest experiments record the subject's decision over various different design parameters (what about 58 cents?), and use the data to generate formal models that predict performance. This is the type of experiment for which Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

In more complicated experiments, full brain scans will be performed using fMRI or PET in order to compare the roles of the different brain areas that contribute to economic decision-making. Other experiments measure ERP (event-related potentials, which are closely related to EEG), and MEG (magnetoencephalograms) to measure the timecourses of different brain events that contribute to economic decision making.

The most complicated experiments involve direct recordings of neurons (and sometimes neurotransmitter concentrations) in monkeys and humans.


Neuroeconomics has deep and important ramifications for a wide range of societal issues. For example, neuroeconomics may lead to significant changes in how we educate children, plan finances, manage employees, react to advertising and marketing, elect politicians, regulate government and industries, prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, select courtroom juries, monitor terrorist threats, and much more.


  • Glimcher, Paul. Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics. (2003). MIT Press.