Mary Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry; Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London
Normative accounts of decision making invoke the idea that we choose in order to optimize the hedonic value, or utility, of expected outcomes. However, there are myriad examples where our behavior indicates that we readily violate the prescriptions of rational decision making. For example, when a doctor recommends options for treatment to a patient the precise manner whereby this information is presented (as a probability of an adverse outcome versus a probability of a cure) leads to dramatically different treatment uptake rates. Similarly, the value we attach to an object seems to be peculiarly bound up with whether we own this object or not, with ownership leading to inflation of value. The pervasive nature of these deviations from rationality begs the question as to their origin. I will suggest that a fundamental explanation relates to our evolutionary heritage such that how information is presented, and the very nature of this information (does it predict a likelihood of reward or punishment), elicits hard-wired responses that exert a biasing effect (and sometimes corrupting effect) on goal-directed decision making. More broadly, what this seems to tell us is that the human mind is more akin to a parliament, characterized by competing interests, rather than the expression of some monolithic all knowing, and rational, chief executive.
Ray Dolan is Mary Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry at University College London and Director of its Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. His research is concerned with the neurobiological characterization of human emotion and how it interacts with other components of cognition, particularly attention, memory and decision making. An emphasis in his recent work has been to link brain activity to theoretical models of decision making, particularly models derived from reinforcement learning theory. He is the author of 400 original papers and is ranked as one of the most cited scientists in the field of neuroscience and behavior. He is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including an Alexander von Humboldt International Research Award for Outstanding Scholars (2004), the Kenneth Craik Research Award (2006), the Minerva Foundation Golden Brain Award (2006), and the prestigious International Max Planck Research Award (2007). In 2010 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Selected publications: Modelling Event-related Skin Conductance Responses (with D. R. Bach, G. Flandin, K. J. Friston; 2010); Effects of Category-specific Costs on Neural Systems for Perceptual Decision Making (with S. M. Fleming, L. Whiteley, O. J. Hulme, M. Sahani; 2010); Computational and Dynamic Models in Neuroimaging (with K. J. Friston; 2010).