Queen’s Economics and Psychology Departments Jointly Welcome Dr. Anita Tusche

By Eliane Hamel Barker and Ardyn Nordstrom, Queen’s University

tusche_foto_caltech2017Last November, the Economics and Psychology departments at Queen’s University were pleased to welcome Dr. Anita Tusche as assistant professor and Queen’s National Scholar. The Queen’s Economics Department is delighted to be welcoming , and would like to take this opportunity to introduce the Queen’s community to Dr. Tusche’s work. Before joining Queen’s, Dr. Anita Tusche completed her PhD in Psychology in Berlin, Germany and continued with Postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and then the California Institute of Technology. Most of Dr. Tusche’s research is in the exciting new field of neuroeconomics, which is at the intersection of behavioral economics, psychology, neuroscience and computational modelling. At the core of her research is the aim to understand the mechanisms that drive people’s differences in decision making by using computational models on data collected from computer experiments, eye-movement measurements to determine what people pay attention to, and functional and structural brain data.

To explore consumer’s decision making mechanisms, in 2010 Dr. Tusche and her colleagues Stefan Bode and John-Dylan Haynes explored the effects of attention on consumer choices [1]. This work used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data to analyse the brain responses of males who were asked to either focus on the image of a car, or to focus on an image where images of other cars were displayed to distract their attention. They ultimately found that, when prompted on their willingness to pay for the vehicle they were asked to focus on, the amount of attention the participant dedicated to the car in question had no influence on their choice about whether or not to buy the product, leading Dr. Tusche and her coauthors to conclude that “even complex and important economic choices can be prepared automatically, in the absence of explicit deliberation and without attention to products”.

Dr. Tusche’s expertise in blending the fields of economics and psychology are highlighted in a 2016 paper dedicated to understanding the motivations behind prosocial behaviour. Using well-established one-shot games used in behavioural economics experiments combined with self-reporting tools used in psychology, Dr. Tusche and her coauthors were able to determine there were four main motivations for prosocial behaviour. Based on factor analysis of the participant’s observed choices in the economic games they were presented, they could identify measures associated with four factors of human prosocial behaviour: altruistically motivated, norm motivated, strategically motivated, and self-reported. This classification provides the first comprehensive framework for measuring human cooperation, which is essential for projects that are aimed at evaluating or influencing prosocial behaviours in people or communities.

A keystone of Dr. Tusche’s work focuses on the origins of altruism in the brain. Using multivariate decoding techniques, Dr. Tusche and her colleagues have been able to identify the specific psychological mechanisms and neural responses associated with altruistic decision making [3]. When faced with choices about charitable giving, responses in two areas of the brain, the anterior insula and the temporoparietal junction, were shown to be important in predicting affective empathy and perspective taking, respectively. This varied significantly across people, and were sensitive to attention shifts. This suggests that people rely on different types of responses to make altruistic choices, and that these types of actions can be influenced by reorienting people’s attention towards the problem they are trying to solve.

As an assistant professor, Dr. Anita Tusche will be teaching novel courses in behavioural neuroeconomics to undergraduate economics and psychology students. Already, this course has proved to be extremely popular with undergraduate students. The course reached capacity well before Dr. Tusche arrived at Queen’s! She is also the lab director of the Queen’s Neuroeconomics Laboratory, which focuses on studying the neuroscience of decision-making. Broadly, this lab focuses on researching social processes in choice, making better choices, and identifying the choice process. As part of the Queen’s National Scholar (QNS) program, Dr. Tushe will be part of a larger effort to promote emerging fields and to encourage diversity and inclusion in faculty recruitment. The QNS program was established in 1985 with the aim of enhancing teaching and research at the university by bringing outstanding academics in the early stages of their career.

On behalf of the Queen’s Economics Department, we are very happy to welcome Dr. Tusche to the faculty. We look forward to seeing what you will bring to this very exciting field of research!

References

[1] Tusche, Anita, Stefan Bode, and John-Dylan Haynes. “Neural responses to unattended products predict later consumer choices.” Journal of neuroscience 30, no. 23 (2010): 8024-8031.

[2] Böckler, Anne, Anita Tusche, and Tania Singer. “The structure of human prosociality: Differentiating altruistically motivated, norm motivated, strategically motivated, and self-reported prosocial behavior.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 7, no. 6 (2016): 530-541.

[3] Tusche, Anita, Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske, Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, and Tania Singer. “Decoding the charitable brain: empathy, perspective taking, and attention shifts differentially predict altruistic giving.” Journal of Neuroscience 36, no. 17 (2016): 4719-4732.