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A Neuroeconomic Theory of Attention- and Task-Switching with Implications for Autism and ADHD

Peter Landry, University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management


"A Neuroeconomic Theory of Attention- and Task-Switching with Implications for Autism and ADHD" Free Download
Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2725953

PETER LANDRY, University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

This paper presents a theoretical and neurobiologically-grounded model of attention- and task-switching in response to novel stimuli. Within this framework, I show how key features of autism and of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be explained by simple “biases? (which can be alternatively interpreted as preference shifters) with regards to how agents value potential diversions in relation to a preoccurring task. Specifically, the theory suggests that diversions of this sort are systematically undervalued in autism and overvalued in ADHD, giving rise to the atypically low attention- and task-switching propensities observed in autism and the reverse in ADHD. While making a broader case for the potential value of economic theory as a lens through which to understand such psychiatric conditions, I draw on a range of formal economic concepts — opportunity cost, willingness-to-pay, risk aversion, time preferences, payoff/cost elasticities — to capture many other documented patterns in autism and in ADHD. In doing so, the model motivates a new classification of autism and ADHD as opposites in that their behavioral symptoms arise from opposite underlying biases. That said, the results also show how many of their symptoms — including some in the domain of social behavior — can overlap, if crudely defined, suggesting a potential clinical benefit from more precise diagnostic criteria.


About this eJournal

This eJournal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts focused on research where economic outcomes are the product of many individual decisions, constrained by scarcity, and equilibrium forces that simultaneously shape a person's social networks and the institutionally defined rules of the game. Decisions are made by computations in the brain which produce action-choices that directly affect the homeostatic wellbeing of the individual and choices that indirectly change wellbeing by changing an individual's future constraints, the scope of their social networks, and their message sending rights within the institutions they participate. Neuroeconomics broadly speaking is interested in the study of these computations and the resulting choices they produce. This includes experiments that attempt to understand the mechanisms of neuronal computations that produce action-choices, theories which predict how neuronal computations in socio-economic environments produce decisions, outcomes and wellbeing, and policy which use our understanding of neuoroeconomic behavior to either build or defend better solutions to societal problems.

Editors: Michael C. Jensen, Harvard University, and Kevin A. McCabe, George Mason University


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Advisory Board

Neuroeconomics eJournal

Harris & Harris Group Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Professor, Baylor University - Department of Neuroscience

Professor of Economics and Law, Chapman University - Economic Science Institute, Chapman University School of Law