Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures

SF Presidential Lecture: Efficiently Irrational: Unraveling the Neural Mechanisms of Human Choice Behavior

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium/2-GDFA (160 5th Avenue)

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium/2-GDFA

160 5th Avenue


Registration link:

Lecture Description:

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.

Speaker Bio:

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.


5:30 p.m. Doors open

6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Lecture and Q&A