Efficiently Irrational: Unraveling the Neural Mechanisms of Human Choice Behavior

  • Speaker
  • Portrait of Paul Glimcher, Professor at NYU Center for Neural Science.Paul Glimcher, Ph.D.Julius Silver Professor of Neural Science
    Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology Professor of Psychology, Economics and Psychiatry
    Co-Director Institute for the Study of Decision-Making, New York University School of Medicine
Date & Time


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Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures are free public colloquia centered on four main themes: Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Neuroscience and Autism Science. These curated, high-level scientific talks feature leading scientists and mathematicians and are intended to foster discourse and drive discovery among the broader NYC-area research community. We invite anyone interested in the topic to join us for this weekly lecture series.
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Cognitive and social scientists have struggled with the irrationalities of human choice behavior; people consistently make logically inconsistent choices. Is human choice behavior evolutionarily, as widely assumed, an inefficient patchwork of competing mechanisms?

In this lecture, Paul Glimcher will discuss his work connecting new data with neurobiological and mathematical findings. Based on that work, he and his colleagues conclude that choice behavior reflects a precisely optimized trade-off between the biological costs of increasing the choice mechanism’s precision and the declining benefits that come as precision increases. Under these constraints, a ‘rationally imprecise’ strategy emerges that accounts for many of the idiosyncrasies of choice behavior. Moreover, this new approach rationalizes many of the puzzling inconsistencies of human choice behavior, explaining why these inconsistencies arise as an optimizing solution in biological choosers.

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On-site registration will not be permitted. Walk-in entry will be denied.

About the Speaker

Portrait of Paul Glimcher, Professor at NYU Center for Neural Science.

Glimcher’s research focuses on studying human and animal decision-making using a variety of approaches. His neuroeconomics laboratory includes neurobiologists, psychologists, economists and mathematicians. They employ various techniques, including single-unit recordings, functional MRI scans and population-level studies, to understand the roots of human decision-making behavior. More recently, the laboratory has begun to employ its findings in translational settings undertaking clinical trials for NIDA.

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