Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 477–488 | Cite as

Neurobiological measurements of cardinal utility: Hedonimeters or learning algorithms?

  • Daniel John Zizzo


A neurobiological argument has been used to defend the measurability and interpersonal comparability of cardinal utility. If true, a strong case could be made for the practical relevance of utility-based social welfare functions. In this paper I demonstrate that the current evidence does not corroborate the cardinal measurability and comparability of utility. Electrical stimulation of brain parts, or asymmetries in brain hemispherical activation, cannot be used to build a hedonimeter. The role of the neurotransmitter dopamine is that of a saliency detector or alternatively one validating adaptive learning models, but either way is not that of a general cardinal utility measure.


Dopamine Electrical Stimulation Social Welfare Learning Algorithm Current Evidence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel John Zizzo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economics, Oxford University, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK (e-mail:

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