Homeostasis, emotions, and inconsistency.

Economic modeling assumes agents characterized by a stable preferences.  This is at odds with current neuroscientific knowledge. In fact, internal signaling related to homeostasis, including but not limited to emotions, radically alters the organism’s motivations and evaluations (changing “utility functions”).  Far from being a flaw, inconsistency allows better optimization.  It is analogous to a government that sends one sort of person to do diplomacy and a different one to fight wars.  That said, it is important to recognize that humans do prize consistency in many domains, and the rapidly expanding understanding of contingencies over long time periods results in new tensions and self-control struggle.  Shan Luo, PhD wrote an interesting paper for her dissertation with us on changes in preference between smaller but sooner vs. larger but later rewards, and changes in brain activity during decision making, as a function of emotion primes.  In this recent chapter, James Melrose, Eustace Hsu and I wrote about addiction from this point of view (focus on inconsistency).   Our ongoing work is supported by a grant from the Institute for New Economic Thinking  (PI Damasio).


The contribution of habits to self- control failure and success.

There is a highly vital research area focused on dissociations (at the level of function and neural system) between value-based decision making and habits.  There is currently excitement over using tasks (especially this task) to operationalize the contribution made by model-free and model-based control systems.  Peggy Lin, myself, and Wendy Wood have a behavioral paper in revision now that shows interesting habit effects on rapid food selection.  We think the controversy over whether these systems are fully separate and competing vs. more integrative is especially critical.  Our current work in this area is supported by The Templeton Foundation.



Current Contract and Grants



R01 DA034456 (Read)                                                                          01/05/2015-12/31/2018


A Neurobiologically-based Neural Network Model of Risky Decision-making

The goal of this project is to use psychological and neurobiological findings from the developmental literature to inform a test of a neural network theory of risky decision-making.


# 1-14-ACE-36 (Page)                                                                         1/1/2014 – 12/31/2015                        

American Diabetes Association                                                           

Neural Mechanisms in Maternal-Fetal Programming for Obesity and Diabetes. 

This grant examines neural correlates of in utero diabetes.


INO15-00037 (Damasio)                                                                       07/01/2015-06/30/2016            

Institute for New Economic Thinking           

Scientific Insights on Human Nature and a New Economics of Cooperation and Conflict

This proposed work is directed at integrating a biological and neurological perspective into economic modeling of consumption behavior.


#014-2017                                                                                           07/01/2014 - 06/30/2017            

Templeton Foundation Award           

Neuropsychology of Developing Virtuous Habits.

This project examines the use of habits to benefit long-term self-control.  The work includes behavioral and neuroimaging components.  Good habits will be examined in a variety of contexts, including recovery from alcoholism.


# 101141  (Graham)                                                                            07/01/2015 - 06/30/2017          

Templeton Foundation (subcontract from Florida State)                        

Applying moral pluralism to the study of self-control

The primary aim of this work is to apply progress in moral psychology to the science of self-control.


# 007426  (Graham)                                                                             07/01/2015 - 06/30/2017            

Templeton Foundation (subcontract from Notre Dame)           

Development and Validation of a Text-Based Approach to Studying Transformative Experience

The primary aim is to use sets of text to identify natural language correlates of transformative experiences.




R21 534675 (Brocas, Mather, Monterosso; Multiple PIs)                            04/01/2016 – 03/31/2018                 


A Neuroeconomic study of choice consistency in aging

The proposal uses the generalized axiom of revealed preference to investigate inconsistencies in value-based decisions as a function of aging.


R01 325603 (Page)                                                                                10/01/2016 - 09/30/2021                  


Neural mechanisms for appetite responses to high-reward foods

This grant follows up on previous work demonstrating lower appetite suppression and associated brain signaling with fructose ingestion relative to glucose ingestion.  In this study we will look at this finding in obese vs. lean participants.                 



Home Research


Kylie had seen a New Yorker cartoon depicting kids in front of plates of marshmallows. The cartoon accompanied a piece summarizing research on delay of gratification (and espically Mischel's marshmallow experiment). She and her older brother wanted to give it a try...



  • Addiction & Self Control Lab
  • 3620 South McClintock
  • SGM 501
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089