Predictably Irrational

Investigating the Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions

The Value of Advice

How we accept advice from others

A few days ago Dan wrote about Don Moore's research on how we accept advice from others. A lab experiment showed that subjects adhered to advice from confident, not necessarily accurate, sources. The findings of another research, led by Prof. Gregory Berns of Emory University, show another aspect of our reaction to advice.

Berns recorded his subjects' brain activity with an fMRI machine while they made simulated financial decisions. Each round subjects had to choose between receiving a risk-free payment and trying their chances at a lottery. In some rounds they were presented with an advice from an "expert economist" as to which alternative they consider to be better.

The results are surprising. Expert advice attenuated activity in areas of the brain that correlate with valuation and probability weighting. Simply put, the advice made the brain switch off (at least to a great extent) processes required for financial decision-making. This response, supported by subjects' actual decisions in the task, are troublesome, perhaps even frightening. The expert advice given in the experiment was suboptimal - meaning the subjects could have done better had they weighted their options themselves. But how could they? Their brains were somewhat dormant.

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References:
Jan B. Engelmann, C. Monica Capra, Charles Noussair, Gregory S. Berns (2009). Expert Financial Advice Neurobiologically "Offloads" Financial Decision-Making under Risk.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral scientist at MIT and the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

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