Read Montague is interested in the human dopamine system — or, as he puts it in this illuminating talk from TEDGlobal 2012, that which makes us “chase sex, food and salt” and therefore survive.
Specifically, Montague and his team at the Roanoke Brain Study are interested in how dopamine and valuation systems work when two human beings interact with each other. Twenty years ago, studying a topic like this was all but impossible because scientists relied on worms and rodents for insight into the brain. But today, in addition to animal research, neurobiologists have at their disposal functional MRI (fMRI), which allows them to make “microscopic blood flow movies” and map the activity of human brains in action.
“We have a behavioral superpower in our brain and it at least in part involves dopamine,” says Montague in this talk. “We can deny any instinct we have for survival for an idea. No other species can do that.”
So how do we assign value to ideas, process the gestures of those around us, make complicated decisions, and create informed judgments about each other? Montague’s lab hopes to discover much more about how these processes work by “eavesdropping” on the brains of 5,000 to 6,000 participants all over the world as they play negotiation games. It’s fascinating research that could tell us more about our social nature. Because as Montague says, “You often don’t know who you are until you see yourself in interaction with people who are close to you, people who are enemies to you, and people who are agnostic to you.”
To hear much more about Montague’s work, watch this talk. Below, hear insights from 12 others who are working hard to give a clearer picture of how our brains work.
Via Maggie Rouman, Miloš Bajčetić, Petra Pollum