Social Decision Making: Bridging Economics and Biology


Jason Collins


April 18, 2011

I am at the Social Decision Making: Bridging Economics and Biology conference (the abstracts of which can be downloaded here). As the name suggests, the basic idea behind the conference is to pull together economists and evolutionary biologists to develop new collaborations and examine how their respective approaches to social decision-making might be useful to each other.

So far, the most surprising observation (to me) is how many of the evolutionary biologists are working in the behavioural economics area and conducting experiments with human subjects. That is certainly a good thing, as behavioural economics could do with an evolutionary framework.

During the opening presentations there was a slight flavour of “bash the economists”, but the targets have generally been fair enough - I just wish that individual economists’ positions would not be taken to be the entire profession’s position. When you consider the evolutionary approaches of the economists whose work has been mentioned, such as Gary Becker or Herbet Gintis, they are poles apart and not necessarily indicative of modern approaches.

The other thing that stands out is that there is little discussion of what economists can offer evolutionary biologists. As is a central theme of this blog, I believe that economics could be much improved by considering humans as evolved (evolving) animals. But what insights by economists should evolutionary biologists be considering in their work that they aren’t now? Once you move past methodologies (such as the raft of experimental experience in behavioural economics), I am not sure that I can name a central insight that might have a significant effect on evolutionary biology.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting during the rest of the conference or over the following Easter break, but I’ll be posting on the conference content over the next few weeks.