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Scarce Means with Alternative Uses: Robbins’ Definition of Economics and Its Extension to the Behavioral and Neurobiological Study of Animal Decision Making

Title:

Scarce Means with Alternative Uses: Robbins’ Definition of Economics and Its Extension to the Behavioral and Neurobiological Study of Animal Decision Making

Shizgal, Peter (2012) Scarce Means with Alternative Uses: Robbins’ Definition of Economics and Its Extension to the Behavioral and Neurobiological Study of Animal Decision Making. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 6 (20). pp. 1-18. ISSN 1662-4548

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2012.00020

Abstract

Almost 80 years ago, Lionel Robbins proposed a highly influential definition of the subject matter of economics: the allocation of scarce means that have alternative ends. Robbins confined his definition to human behavior, and he strove to separate economics from the natural sciences in general and from psychology in particular. Nonetheless, I extend his definition to the behavior of non-human animals, rooting my account in psychological processes and their neural underpinnings. Some historical developments are reviewed that render such a view more plausible today than would have been the case in Robbins’ time. To illustrate a neuroeconomic perspective on decision making in non-human animals, I discuss research on the rewarding effect of electrical brain stimulation. Central to this discussion is an empirically based, functional/computational model of how the subjective intensity of the electrical reward is computed and combined with subjective costs so as to determine the allocation of time to the pursuit of reward. Some successes achieved by applying the model are discussed, along with limitations, and evidence is presented regarding the roles played by several different neural populations in processes posited by the model. I present a rationale for marshaling convergent experimental methods to ground psychological and computational processes in the activity of identified neural populations, and I discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and complementarity of the individual approaches. I then sketch some recent developments that hold great promise for advancing our understanding of structure–function relationships in neuroscience in general and in the neuroeconomic study of decision making in particular.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Psychology
Concordia University > Research Units > Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology
Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Authors:Shizgal, Peter
Journal or Publication:Frontiers in Neuroscience
Date:2012
Funders:
  • Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Concordia University Research Chairs Program
ID Code:974156
Deposited By:PETER SHIZGAL
Deposited On:18 Jun 2012 10:00
Last Modified:18 Jun 2012 10:18
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