Thinking about hormones and cloning . . .

The American Journal of Agricultural Economics just released a forthcoming paper I co-authored with John Crespi, Brad Cherry, Laura Martin, Brandon McFadden, and Amanda Bruce.  Why so many authors?  Because it takes a lot of brains to try to figure out what's going on in people's brains when making decisions about food.

Here's a description from the paper of what we did: 

In this paper, participants in a neuroimaging (fMRI) experiment made choices regarding
types of milk produced with or without an unfamiliar technology process (cloning or growth hormone) while recording their choices and the time it took to make those choices. Focusing on nine areas of the brain that have been found to be important in previous research for economic valuation, the experiment and subsequent analyses show which of these areas are correlated with the deliberative process and which are correlated with the final choice. One area of particular interest that revealed correlation for both activities was the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This region is implicated in experiments of valuation and salience, and it was significantly correlated with deliberation and an increased likelihood of choosing the more familiar milk.

Here's one of the figures from the paper.  The orangish-yellowish areas indicate brain areas that were more active when the person was choosing between milks with different characteristics vs. when they were just looking at milk with different characteristics.  Choosing really is a different mental process than simply looking.

We find that we can predict choice and decision time based on activation in different brain areas.

Here's how the paper ends:

When making decisions we recall memories, we feel emotions, we weigh costs and benefits, and while we cannot observe these neural processes directly, we can determine which of the valuation areas of the brain slow the process down and which speed it up. That is, which areas are involved in the internal deliberation that eventually becomes choice? While a large portion of the brain (figure 3 and table 3) ponders the decision, the final choice appears most highly correlated with localized areas in the medial prefrontal cortex, and among those, it is fascinating that correlation is stronger, in our study, when the choice is over growth hormones than cloning technology. Why is this? Food labeling has been a source of research interest for years, and neuroscience technology will make it a fruitful area of study for years to come.