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Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics (ZNE)


Recent Media Coverage

Conflicting Motives Govern Sense of Fairness

05-12-2022: The perception that resources are unfairly distributed is at the root of many social conflicts. In a paper recently published in PNAS, Christian Ruff and Jie Hu investigate the motives influencing our perception of justice in resource distribution. They found that although people feel an aversion to inequality, they are also reluctant to harm others and to upend existing social hierarchies. 
Research shows that two conflicting motives play a particularly important role in the assessment of distributive justice: inequality aversion and the reluctance to harm others. To understand how these motives interact with each other, a team around Neuroeconomists Jie Hu and Christian Ruff used functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRT) to study the brain activity of test participants during a redistribution task. 
The participants were generally more willing to make others financially worse off if this reduced inequality – in particular if the initial inequality was substantial. However, there seemed to be a limit: a redistribution that made the initially advantaged person worse off than the other was not chosen, even if this would lead to more equality overall. 

Press Release

Interview with Christian Ruff (German, starting min 35:53) 

2022-03-07: Even a little alcohol may be bad for the brain

According to a recent study in "Nature Communications", even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a smaller brain volume and a reduced mass of grey and white brain matter.

It is well known that chronic excessive alcohol abuse is detrimental to health. However, the evidence to date is contradictory as to whether light to moderate alcohol consumption could have similar negative consequences.

Gökhan Aydogan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics, was part of the international and interdisciplinary research team that studied a huge sample of 36,678 adults from the UK. "We already found negative associations between alcohol consumption and brain structure in people who consumed only one to two units of alcohol per day," he summarizes the findings. In the study, one pint of beer or a large glass of wine was considered to be two units of alcohol.

Effects are worse the more you drink

The study offers evidence that the effects of alcohol consumption on the brain are exponential. Gökhan Aydogan explains: "The last beer is not only responsible for the hangover, but also has a greater negative effect on brain ageing than all the previous ones consumed that day".

The researchers assume that brain of people consuming one unit of alcohol per day age around 1 year more than the brains of people who consume no alcohol at all. At four units per day, the difference in brain ageing is ten years.

The authors emphasize, however, that the study was not designed to establish a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and the change in brain structure, i.e. to prove a cause-effect relationship. Further studies on this would therefore be of great interest.

Article in Nature Communications

Generous with Individuals and Selfish to the Masses

2021-08-02: Financial scandals or just normal human behavior? Neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich have shown in an experimental setting that most people are willing to steal half of the earnings of a large group if their personal gain exceeds 100 euro, even though the very same people are generous towards individuals. So to speak, the roots of corporate scandals are in all of us.

Press release

Generosity, happiness, and testosterone: DUZ magazine interviews Philippe Tobler

2021-05-28: Neuroeconomist Philippe Tobler speaks with DUZ Magazine about the mechanisms that influence our value-based decisions and shows concrete examples from his interdisciplinary research. One focus of his research is on the connection between generosity and happiness and the influence of endogenous substances such as Dopamine or Testosterone. For example, his research showed that Testosterone has a negative effect on generosity. Accordingly, men were less generous than women. But Tobler wants to do more than just produce research results: He wants to make people happier with the help of neuroeconomic methods.

Article in DUZ

New measure to predict stress resilience

2021-04-15: researchers from the Zurich Center for Neuroeconics show that increased sensitivity in a specific region of the brain contributes to the development of anxiety and depression in response to real-life stress. Their study establishes an objective neurobiological measure for stress resilience in humans.

Press Release

2021-01-29: There is a common genetic and neurobiological basis for risky behavior – the genetic disposition for risk-taking is mapped in several areas of the brain, a recent study by Gökhan Aydogan, Christian Ruff and Todd Hare shows. The study is the first to combine genetic information and brain scans from more than 25,000 people. Among other things, the researchers examined the relationship between individual differences in brain anatomy and the propensity to engage in risky behavior. “We found both functional and anatomical differences,” says Gökhan Aydogan.

Press Release

Paper in Nature Human Behavior

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