Saturday, April 16, 2011

Undesirable rewards and brain activity

No sooner had I written that I do not expect Spain to seek a bail-out, because the Spanish Prime Minister had not denied that they will do so, than a high ranking Spanish official actually made just such a denial. In words reminiscent of those used by Mr Barroso, the President of the European Commission, Elena Selgado, the Spanish finance minister said that the risk of contagion to Spain is "absolutely ruled out".

This frightens me somewhat and raises an important neurobiological question.

Following my line of thought, itself influenced by my experience of what politicians say and do, I would expect that this means that there is a high chance that Spain will actually seek a bail-out. This would of course be a disaster, and a most unwelcome prospect.

So, the biological question is this: when what we expect happens, apparently there follows strong dopaminergic activity, especially in orbito-frontal cortex. We are somehow "rewarded" because we predicted correctly. But what is it that happens in our brains when we predict correctly but the outcome is one that we absolutely do not want?

I do not know whether anyone has done experiments along these lines.

Still, I am not entirely without hope that, on this occasion, my general prediction will turn out to be completely wrong and that Spain will not seek a bail-out.

My hope rests on two facts:

The lesser of the two is that the denial did not come from the highest level, that is from the Prime Minister himself or, heaven forbid, from Mr Barroso!

The more reliable one is that the denial came from a woman.

As I have consistently argued, women are to be trusted a lot more than men when it comes to financial matters.

So, I am trusting her words and hoping that Spain will not need to seek a bail-out.

As for the experiment above, it is still worth doing.

No comments: