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School of Business Hosts Consumer Neuroscience Symposium; Prepares to Open Neurofinance Lab

October 27, 2014
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People make financial and business decisions for many reasons, and researchers are always looking for new ways to predict and understand their behavior. The emerging fields of consumer neuroscience and neurofinance seek to examine the physiological aspects of such decision-making, and the School of Business is expanding its research into these fields.

This fall, Milica Mormann joined the School’s finance department as a research assistant professor, and she is spearheading the creation of a new neurofinance lab at the School. The lab will enable faculty and students to add another layer to their research, by exploring how physiological aspects factor into the final behavioral choices that people make.

“Instead of just using traditional surveys and asking people what they do, we can now do eye tracking, where we look at where their eyes move as they look at a page to see exactly what they focus on. We will also have an EEG machine, so we can get brain-activity measurements,” explained Mormann, whose interdisciplinary research focuses on consumer behavior, financial decision-making and environment-related decisions. In addition to stationary and mobile eye trackers and the EEG system, the lab will have facial expression analysis software, which records a person’s face and then analyzes her reactions while processing information.

Mormann also organized a Consumer Neuroscience Symposium, hosted by the School of Business on Sept. 25. The symposium drew more than 90 scholars from top research institutions across the globe with diverse backgrounds, including economics, psychology, neuroscience, medicine and finance. Attendees examined the current knowledge at the intersection of consumer research and neuroscience.

The breadth and depth of this emerging field were on display in the panel discussion “Big Picture: What Can Neuroscience Offer to Consumer Research?,” which Mormann moderated. It featured Colin Camerer, a professor at Caltech and recipient of the 2013 McArthur genius award; Scott Huettel, director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Duke University; and Wes Hutchinson, director of the Wharton Behavioral Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. “Neuroscience is not going to replace traditional methods” of consumer research, Huettel told the audience. “We think of neuroscience as something that accompanies traditional methods… Neuroscience can speed the pace of discovery.”

The School’s neurofinance lab is off to an auspicious start with an exciting line-up of projects.. For instance, Mormann will study how people process information related to financial institutions and how this information affects their choices — such as whether to invest in a retirement fund. “When I first worked on these issues at Caltech, eye tracking was largely considered the exclusive domain of vision scientists. Today, most of the top research schools have embraced its interdisciplinary potential and are setting up eye-tracking labs or neuroscience labs,” Mormann says. “The deans and many of my colleagues were interested in getting a similar lab started here.”

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