My profile of Read Montague and the dopamine prediction-error hypothesis is now online. I wanted to write this article for two main reasons. First of all, I think the dopamine story is incredibly exciting and remains one of the best examples of how subtle shifts in neural firing rates can allow the brain make sense of the real world. Yes, I know there are caveats, but the prediction-error hypothesis is still a very powerful paradigm. Wolfram Schultz should win a Nobel Prize.
Secondly, there’s so much crappy fMRI research out there – and it always get so much press attention – that I wanted to do some reporting on the best brain scanner experiments, even if they required a little more explanation than “The “fill-in-the-blank” brain area is responsible for sarcasm/romantic love/jealousy/etc.” Not only has Montague’s lab helped pioneer some very clever paradigms – he invented hyperscanning – but he insists on using very rigorous analytic techniques. He’s a scientist who is skeptical of the technology and his own data. As Montague told me: “All of these [fMRI] studies with twelve, thirteen subjects are completely bogus. Where we’re at with brain imaging right now is where genetics was thirty years ago. The stuff we think is signal is really noise. We’ve got no handle on individual variation, so we end up throwing out most of the really interesting stuff.” A typical Montague fMRI experiment will involve at least 75 subjects, which is an extremely large n for the field.
Here, by the way, is Montague’s latest Science paper which looks at how people with borderline personality disorder play simple economic exchange games.