Economics and Philosophy

Essay

NEUROECONOMICS, NEUROPHYSIOLOGY AND THE COMMON CURRENCY HYPOTHESIS

Anthony Landretha1 and John Bicklea2

a1 University of California Los Angeles

a2 University of Cincinnati

Abstract

We briefly describe ways in which neuroeconomics has made contributions to its contributing disciplines, especially neuroscience, and a specific way in which it could make future contributions to both. The contributions of a scientific research programme can be categorized in terms of (1) description and classification of phenomena, (2) the discovery of causal relationships among those phenomena, and (3) the development of tools to facilitate (1) and (2). We consider ways in which neuroeconomics has advanced neuroscience and economics along each line. Then, focusing on electrophysiological methods, we consider a puzzle within neuroeconomics whose solution we believe could facilitate contributions to both neuroscience and economics, in line with category (2). This puzzle concerns how the brain assigns reward values to otherwise incomparable stimuli. According to the common currency hypothesis, dopamine release is a component of a neural mechanism that solves comparability problems. We review two versions of the common currency hypothesis, one proposed by Read Montague and colleagues, the other by William Newsome and colleagues, and fit these hypotheses into considerations of rational choice.