Imaging Economic Brains; analysis of the emergence of a new scientific field

Project leaders: Ale Smidts and Paul Wouters
Postdoc Researcher: Clement Levallois
Duration: 2008 - 2011


“Imaging Economic Brains” was a two-year postdoctoral research project, carried out within ERIM. The project was aiming at the analysis of the emergence of a new technology-driven social science field: neuro-economics, a new field in economics and management science. This field seeks to mobilize advanced brain imaging techniques from neuroscience to analyze the biological basis of economic decision making. It sits at the interface between economics, management science, psychology, and neuroscience. The emergence and dynamics of neuro-economics is viewed as a special case of technological change in the development of research cultures. Historians of science have made clear that technology and research instrumentation are main factors in the development of scientific research. By integrating new measurement and observational instruments in their research practice, scientists have redefined their objects of research and consequently also the key questions in their field. Imaging technologies have traditionally played an important role in this dynamics (as illustrated by e.g., the invention of the microscope). The new brain imaging technologies (in particular fMRI and its related brain scanning techniques) have already had a strong influence on medical science, neuroscience, and the cognitive sciences. But how will they influence the social and behavioural sciences?

Current Project Status

The project on Imaging Economic Brains harvested its first results in 2009.

The preliminary phase highlighted 3 core perspectives on neuroeconomics: this field is a rare example of the birth of a new field, it is also an extraordinary instance of interdisciplinary collaboration, and with neuromarketing, it raises sharp issues on the public role of science and technologies.

A web-based, multimedia database on neuromarketing in the popular press is being gathered since January 2009 with the aid of research assistant Nicoline Beun, and will upon completion constitute a unique corpus to probe important issues on the new influence of cognitive science in our daily life: what is the power of brain imaging on the presentation of scientific issues to the public? Who has a voice in the debates over neuromarketing, and the ethical concerns it raises? What is the reaction of the business industry to the cognitive revolution?

To better understand the identity of neuroeconomics and distinguish the “hype” from the actual picture, Clement has designed with Ale Smidts and Paul Wouters an online survey for neuroeconomists – which has been advertised at international conferences on neuroeconomics in the US and Europe in September / October 2009. The data is currently collected and will serve as an input for a social network analysis of the field.

On-going projects also include a bibliometric study of neuroeconomics (in collaboration with Paul Wouters), and several field visits to labs specializing in neuroeconomics at Duke University (programmed for November 2009 and spring 2010).

To follow the progresses of these projects and Clement’s look at neuroeconomics, just visit his website.  


Clement Levallois, Stephanie Steinmetz, Paul Wouters (2013 MIT Press). Sloppy data floods or precise social science methodologies? in: Virtual Knowledge (Paul Wouters, Anne Beaulieu, Andrea Scharnhorst, Sally Wyatt, eds).

Clement Levallois, John Clithero, Ale Smidts, Paul Wouters, Scott Huettel (2012). Translating upwards: linking the neural and social sciences via neuroeconomics. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2012-13 (11): 789-797.    

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