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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You'd Have To Be Crazy To Think You Can Beat The Market

Or, at the very least, brain-damaged. Recently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and the Univesity of Iowa studied a group of subjects with organic brain damage play an investment game. The subjects' brain damage was localized to the area that controlled emotions, but left the cognitive and logic-processing areas of the brain untouched. They found:

The study suggests the participants' lack of emotional responsiveness actually gave them an advantage when they played a simple investment game. The emotionally impaired players were more willing to take gambles that had high payoffs because they lacked fear. Players with undamaged brain wiring, however, were more cautious and reactive during the game, and wound up with less money at the end.

Some neuroscientists believe good investors may be exceptionally skilled at suppressing emotional reactions. "It's possible that people who are high-risk takers or good investors may have what you call a functional psychopathy," says Antoine Bechara, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, and a co-author of the study. "They don't react emotionally to things. Good investors can learn to control their emotions in certain ways to become like those people."

The study demonstrates how neuroeconomics can offer insight into a question that has become a growing focus of economic inquiry: Why don't people always act in their own self-interest when they make economic decisions?

Though the field is still in its infancy, researchers hope neuroeconomics could someday have dozens of real world applications -- like explaining how brain chemistry influences market phenomena such as bubble manias and investor panics. Wall Street executives already are paying attention to the findings, since it offers insight into what motivates investors.

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