, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 229-249
Date: 19 Sep 2010

Is neuroeconomics doomed by the reverse inference fallacy?

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Abstract

Neuroeconomic studies are liable to fall into the reverse inference fallacy, a form of affirmation of the consequent. More generally neuroeconomics relies on two problematic steps, namely the inference from brain activities to the engagement of cognitive processes in experimental tasks, and the presupposition that such inferred cognitive processes are relevant to economic theorizing. The first step only constitutes the reverse inference fallacy proper and ways to correct it include a better sense of the neural response selectivity of the targeted brain areas and a better definition of relevant cognitive ontologies for neuroeconomics. This second way also allows increased coherence between the cognitive processes actually involved in neuroeconomics experiments and the theoretical constructs of economics. We suggest means of increasing neural response selectivity in neuroeconomic experimental paradigms. We also discuss how the choice of cognitive ontologies can both avoid implicit reductionist strategies (from economic constructs to neural patterns) and irrelevance, as cognitive processes engaged in experimental tasks may lack immediate bearing on the study of economic behavior. With these joint improvements neuroeconomics can be a progressive science.