Neurocomputational Insights into Social Decision Making, Morality, and Self-Control

As part of the Past Neuroeconomics Colloquium Spring 2018

Speaker: Cendri Hutcherson, Ph.D.

Director, Decision Neuroscience Laboratory
Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto

Neurocomputational Insights into Social Decision Making, Morality, and Self-Control

Time: 2:40 pm to 4:00 pm
Date: Tuesday, May 1st, 2018
Location: NYU Department of Economics, 19 W 4th Street, Room 517




Selfish, unethical, and short-sighted decisions lie at the heart of some of society’s most pressing problems, but it is unclear why people so often struggle to make virtuous choices. Popular models often present these choices as a battle between two systems: one rapid, automatic, and hedonistic, the other slow, effortful, and virtuous. Evidence for the existence of these two systems, and their contents, has derived from a variety of sources, but a complete explanation of how they relate to good decision making remains elusive. Here, I will show how a neurally-informed computational model of choice can generate novel and unexpected insights into a wide range of difficult choices previously attributed to the interaction of competing systems, including healthy eating, altruistic choice, proxy decision-making, and moral behaviour. The model makes two simple assumptions: that the brain constructs choice values via weighted accumulation of evidence, and that attentional processes drive evidence weights.  Taken together, these two assumptions produce a number of specific model predictions, borne out by behavioural, EEG, and fMRI data, about when and why people manage to rein in their baser instincts. The results suggest a need to refine popular competitive dual-system models of choice in light of computational model predictions, but also inspire new theories and methods for investigating the dynamics of temptation and self-control during choice.

Paper(s) on which talk is based:

About the Speaker

Dr. Hutcherson is the director of the Toronto Decision Neuroscience Lab and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto with cross-appointments in the Rotman School of Management and the Graduate Department of Clinical Science. She received degrees in psychology from Harvard (B.A.) and Stanford (Ph.D.), and spent several years as a post-doctoral scholar studying neuroeconomics at the California Institute of Technology. Her work focuses on building neurally-informed computational models of decision-making, with the goal of understanding why people sometimes make choices they regret, and how to help them make better choices for both themselves and others. Current research projects span a number of topics, including altruism, morality, health-related decision making, and self-control. She has received funding for these projects from several sources, including the National Institute of Mental Health, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Canada Research Chairs program.

Paper(s) on which talk is based:

  1. A Neurocomputational Model of Altruistic Choice and Its Implications

2. Self-Control as Value-Based Choice