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Khalil Elias | Fellow Postdoctoral
2004-11-01 - 2006-10-31 | Research area: Cognition and Sociality
The Biological Bases of Behavioral Anomalies
The experimental work of Tversky, Kahneman, and others has uncovered a number of anomalies that challenge standard theory of choice. The basic threat in these anomalies is the importance of the context, and not only the content, of choice. A little-noticed anomaly is that agents behave differently towards some anomalies as opposed to other anomalies. While agents usually correct their behavior once made aware of the context in particular situations, they consistently do not in other situations. The research proposes a solution to this asymmetry-of-context problematic. Namely, there are two kinds of context. If the situation is about action-as-conception, i.e., to figure out causal regularities of the environment, the context is a “category” that orients one’s way of processing the information. If the situation is about action-as-achievement, i.e., to organize one’s ability to attain a goal or satisfy a desire, the context is a “frame” that articulates one’s skills into a coherent ability. The agent is ready to adjust the category once made aware of a better way to conceive the environment, but the agent is not ready to adjust the frame because the frame is created rather than discovered. The proposed category/frame distinction underscores the idea that action is not simply a response to stimulus or incentive. Rather, action involves two stages: the first stage is the conception of the environment, a conception that is used by one’s frame in the second stage to achieve a goal. The proposed research aims to buttress the category/frame distinction by examining the psychological, ethological, and neurobiological literature pertaining to this issue. The aim is to see how the conception or judgment of events differ, at the psychological and neural levels, from activity undertaken to satisfy basic needs or to attain a goal. The category/frame distinction has ramifications towards the understanding of commitment, institutions, and organizations.