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Neuroeconomics

Yet another new term in neuro-, suggesting that the prefix is rapidly becoming a successor to e-, cyber- and other fashionable affixes of the last decade. The earliest example of this term I’ve traced is in an article that appeared a year ago in The Flame, the magazine of Claremont Graduate University in California. The proponent of this new field is Paul Zak, Associate Professor of Economics at that university. He said in the article, “Most economists theorize about how human beings behave instead of going out to observe. In neuroeconomics, our goal is to observe and measure what’s happening in the brain when people are making decisions”. His team uses magnetic resonance imaging and blood sampling to observe the way a person’s brain works during the process, for example during a game of trust with other players. It’s starting to look as though there may be biochemical underpinnings to our willingness to be co-operative and generous in our economic negotiations, perhaps associated with a hormone called oxytocin. The field is expanding: the University of Minnesota held the first conference on neuroeconomics in October last year and plans to hold a second this year.

One definition of neuroeconomics might be “animal spirits explained.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune, 17 Nov. 2002

Zak is a leading protagonist in the relatively new field of neuroeconomics, which aims to understand human social interactions through every level from synapse to society.

New Scientist, 10 May 2003

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 7 Jun. 2003

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 7 June 2003.