Keynote Print

Why do we need animals to understand the eurobiology of economic decision-making?

Prof. Dr. Tobias Kalenscher

Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany


Despite the still frequently made assumption that humans are rational, consistent, sophisticated and selfish decision-makers, decades of research in the behavioural sciences suggest that individuals are often much less rational and egoistic as originally assumed. Yet, it is still elusive what causes these systematic deviations from the rational choice ideal. Interestingly, not only human decision-makers, but also non-human animals often act seemingly inconsistent with their revealed preferences, e.g., when foraging for food. Humans and animals often make similar, maybe even identical decision “errors”. These intriguing parallels in human and animal choice patterns support the premise that they may share evolutionary roots. In my talk, I will argue in favour of the idea that the reality of decision-making with all its facets, including action against one’s own preferences, has to be understood in light of the nature, constraint and evolution of the neural apparatus supporting its function. I propose that the neural architecture of choice has evolved to its current state because it provided decision-makers with an adaptive advantage. This means that, even though there might exist a many-to-one mapping of neural implementations to choice processes, careful comparisons across species can complement human microeconomics research by supplying possible answers to the question why we make decisions as we do. Or, in other words, “a theory that works well across species has a greater likelihood of being valid than one that works well with only one, or a limited set of, species.” (Kagel et al., 1995, p. 4).


Prof. Dr. Tobias Kalenscher holds a diploma in psychology. He received a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the Ruhr-University Bochum in 2005 followed by a post-doc and independent researcher position in systems biology at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He was appointed professor of comparative psychology in Düsseldorf in 2011. He works on the interface of psychology, neuroscience and economics. His main interest is to understand the psychology and neurobiology of decision-making in general, and deviations from optimal decision-making in particular. Combining in-vivo electrophysiology, psychopharmacology, and neuroimaging techniques with conceptual tools borrowed from psychology, economics, and biology, he employs a truly multidisciplinary, comparative approach to understand decision-making in humans and animals.

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