Is Neuroeconomics Doomed by the Reverse Inference Fallacy?

Posted: 11 Oct 2017

See all articles by Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde

Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde

École Normale Supérieure (ENS); Université Paris II

Date Written: October 10, 2017


Neuroeconomic studies are liable to fall into the reverse inference fallacy, a form of affirmation of the consequent. More generally neuroeconomics relies on two problematic steps, namely the inference from brain activities to the engagement of cognitive processes in experimental tasks, and the presupposition that such inferred cognitive processes are relevant to economic theorizing. The first step only constitutes the reverse inference fallacy proper and ways to correct it include a better sense of the neural response selectivity of the targeted brain areas and a better definition of relevant cognitive ontologies for neuroeconomics. This second way also allows increased coherence between the cognitive processes actually involved in neuroeconomics experiments and the theoretical constructs of economics. We suggest means of increasing neural response selectivity in neuroeconomic experimental paradigms. We also discuss how the choice of cognitive ontologies can both avoid implicit reductionist strategies (from economic constructs to neural patterns) and irrelevance, as cognitive processes engaged in experimental tasks may lack immediate bearing on the study of economic behavior. With these joint improvements neuroeconomics can be a progressive science.

Keywords: Neuroeconomics, Reverse Inference Fallacy, Cognitive Ontologies, Reductionism, Cultural Neural Recycling

JEL Classification: D87

Suggested Citation

Bourgeois-Gironde, Sacha, Is Neuroeconomics Doomed by the Reverse Inference Fallacy? (October 10, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde (Contact Author)

École Normale Supérieure (ENS) ( email )

45 rue d’Ulm
Paris Cedex 05, F-75230

Université Paris II ( email )

12 place du Pantheon
Paris cedex 06, 75231

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