Do humans think like computers?

When faced with a problem a computer will take a set of instructions and follow them to get an answer. But what about the human mind?

Professor Peter Bossaerts is the Belgian-born co-director of the Brain Mind and Market Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, where economists, neuroscientists and computer scientists are working together to better understand how we make decisions, using a unique experimental methodology. Their revolutionary research is transforming our understanding of how humans think.

The team at the Brain Mind and Market Laboratory is working to unravel how the human brain compares to a super computer. While both humans and computers struggle to navigate complex problems, humans have a unique advantage: We can quickly tell that a problem is difficult and decide whether to spend time solving it. Computers, on the other hand, will continue to try and solve the problem, indefinitely.

Professor Bossaerts explains that experimental methods are widely used in science and medicine, but experimental economics is a new and relatively untapped field of research.

To understand the nature of human decision making, the Brain Mind and Market Laboratory involves volunteers in problem solving experiments. Participants are presented with complex problems and researchers observe how they respond. These behavioural observations are combined with neuro-imaging to better understand the biological processes behind decision making.

The real-world applications of this work are wide ranging. From saving for retirement to investing in the stock market or buying a house, the level of financial complexity every day Australians are expected to navigate continues to grow. By better understanding how we make decisions, the Brain Mind and Market Laboratory’s research can inform practice and policy to better position people to safeguard their own financial wellbeing.

This approach to the science of decisions has made Professor Bossaerts one of the world’s leaders in experimental decision-making research in finance and economics.

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Illustrated by Janelle Barone