Neuroeconomists let people play economic “games” while hooked up to MRI scanners. Here is one recent result:
The cingulate cortex, which processes both emotions and abstract thinking, becomes especially active after one player betrays the other by cutting back on how much he shares–as if the brain, or at least this crucial part of it, is “hypertuned” to detect betrayal. Quartz has also seen intriguing differences between men and women in the scanner. Men’s brains tend to shut down after they’ve made their decision, awaiting a reply from the other subject. But women don’t relax so easily; they show continued activity in at least three areas–the ventral striatum (the brain’s center for anticipating rewards), the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (which is involved with planning and organizing) and the caudate nucleus (a checking and monitoring region, sometimes associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder). Women, says Quartz, seem to obsess more over whether they did the right thing–and how the other subject will react to them [emphasis added].
There’s one other intriguing discovery coming out of this work, which has even the scientists baffled: with approximately 85 percent accuracy, the subjects, separated by the distance from Los Angeles to Texas, can guess whether they’re playing against a man or a woman. They appear to be picking up on subtle clues in the interactions that the scientists themselves haven’t identified.
Here is a recent MR post on neuroeconomics, citing the same link of relevance. This page offers a good introduction to neuroeconomics, including home pages for the authors cited above. Here is a course reading list for a neuroeconomics class. Here is a long essay on neuroscience and economics.