Neuroeconomics: $1.5 Million to Study “Virtues”

Paul Zak, Director of Claremont’s Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to continue researching, “Oxytocin and the Neurobiology of Human Virtues: Resilience, Generosity, and Compassion.”

The grant follows directly from Zak’s previous Templeton Foundation-funded research on the role of values in supporting free-enterprise economies. The results of that two-year research program convinced Zak that human virtues are real, physiologically-measurable entities that make civilizations and modern economies possible.

The work stems from Zak’s research in neuroeconomics. The Center for Neuroeconomic Studies is one of only five such labs in the world; the center studies the brain and how our physiology affects our desire to spend money and thus, participate in the economy. [From Paul Zak Awarded Million-Dollar Grant to Study Virtues]

Zak’s technique for observing how the brain handles virtuous behavior will be to let subjects engage in decision tasks related to each virtue – resilience, generosity, and compassion – while their brain activity is monitored.

“This research will tell us about the human propensity to help strangers, even at a cost to themselves, as well as how modern impersonal economic exchange in markets occurs with a very small amount of government regulation and oversight,” Zak said. “Markets are self organizing, because most of the time, most people are virtuous (honest, trustworthy, etc.). We don’t know why or how this works, so I’m looking to the brain for answers.”


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Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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1 response to "Neuroeconomics: $1.5 Million to Study “Virtues”" — Your Turn


Felipe 6. November 2009 at 1:22 pm

I’d say, in a world where human virtues can be weighted accordingly to it’s chemical value, modification of human behavior is a great temptation.


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