Year of selection 2010
Institution National University of Singapore
Adam Smith meets Charles Darwin and Watson and Crick. In a passionate debate, they exchanged ideas on economic theory and knowledge about heredity and the nature of genes.
Pr Ebstein imagined this dialogue when he started to question what accounts for individual differences when people make financial decisions that are inherently risky. As a neuroscientist, his goal is to identify genomic regions associated with -decision making under risk in order to understand the -molecular -architecture of human choice when one is facing risk.
In order to profile inclination to economic risk, 1,805 subjects completed a battery of incentivized behavioral economic games that measure individual attitudes towards risk. At the same time, blood samples were extracted. For the first time, laboratory-based decision-making tasks have been analyzed at a molecular level to understand how individuals shape risk perception and preferences.
“If nurture in the guise of parents, teachers and culture is equally important in shaping our extraordinarily flexible patterns of behavior, I believe that a lot of decision making is hard-wired and shaped by our genes and hence by our evolutionary history as a species,” says Pr Ebstein. In our distant past as we emerged as Homo Sapiens, people made “financial” decisions that incurred an element of risk viz., where to forage or hunt and whether to trade with neighboring hunter-gatherer bands. Pr Ebstein thinks that such early examples of decision making laid the basis for the more complex decisions we make today. His findings could be of interest to behavioral economists struggling to understand the brain mechanisms underlying economic thinking. It could also appeal to neuroscientists intrigued by how the brain makes decisions from molecules to minds, not to mention the general public. Wouldn’t you be interested in knowing if you have the genes of risk?
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