Thursday, September 29, 2005


You’re better at playing the stock market than the rest of us. A study done by a Stanford marketing professor suggests that you’re going to do better financially if you have damage in the part of your noggin that involves the emotions, because emotions turn you into a putz, you become prudent and hold onto what you’ve got at the expense of getting more. If you weren’t such a wussy, you’d be stinking rich, or a compulsive gambler, whatever.

The sample size was tiny 41 people, 15 of whom had lesions in the pre-frontal cortex, the site of empathy, altruism and long-range planning. The participants were given $20 which allowed them to risk $1 on a coin toss. If they won, they gained $2.50. Those with damage to their brains bet on 85% of the rounds, whereas the normal subjects bet on only 58%.

The study is one in a scary new field called neuroeconomics, which investigates the mental processes that drive decision-making when it comes to money. They aim to plumb the mystery of myopic loss aversion, the tendency of people to invest to minimize loss, rather than increase their chance for gain, and I’m sure their motives are completely pure, because if there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s another bunch trying to separate us from our money.

The key is the fear that stops normal people from taking risks, psychopaths are able to control their emotions to a greater degree than we can because they feel anxiety less intensely or are energized by it. After a few painful losses, most people stop playing, instead of staying in the game and letting the odds work in their favour. Psychopaths have no empathy and can make rational judgments based on expedience without the distraction of the “human” factor. They don’t lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling like the rest of us.

Super investor Warren Buffett has been called a functioning psychopath, he says “what’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding the framework”.

He’s right of course, those messy emotions, always spoiling the party, maybe that’s why so many of us avoid the stock market in favour of lotto tickets.

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