Employing neuroscience in economic and business strategies

 Assoc Prof Alexandre Schaefer and Assoc Prof Motoki Watabe - School of Business.
Assoc Prof Alexandre Schaefer and Assoc Prof Motoki Watabe - School of Business.

The human brain has often been called the final frontier in science. Endless studies and research have yet to bring us a full understanding of the complexities of how the mind works, which is one reason why neuroscience is such an intriguing and potential-filled area of study.

In early 2013, Monash University Malaysia’s School of Business launched a Neurobusiness Laboratory, a sort of “thinking facility” that will help researchers measure brain activity to better understand human behaviour in relation to the workplace, making business decisions and other factors that contribute to the overall economy.

Neurobusiness is a tool that employs core neuroscience principles of how the brain and the central nervous system works, to measure body function and direct behaviour to better understand the consumer.

It was the setting up of this centre that attracted two leading researchers, both with a keen interest in neuroscientific studies, to work at the School of Business, Monash University Malaysia.

For Associate Professor Motoki Watabe, working in one of the region’s first neurobusiness labs held great potential for him to further develop his research.

“I’m interested in how people can cooperate with each other. There’s interdependence with others in the workplace, and you need some level of trust. How we can establish trust interpersonally is important to ensure a functional business environment said Dr Watabe.

Dr Watabe, who co-authored the bestselling book “Unpleasant Workplace in which he analyses the recent problem of cooperation at workplaces in Japan, said his current project is focusing on reputational information.”

“In an interpersonal situation, I’m studying how a person makes a decision on whether or not another person is trustworthy based on reputation," he said.“Reputation is usually an abstract summary of a person’s past behaviour, but my hypothesis says there are cultural factors that make a difference. How do Asians and Westerners judge a business partner based on reputation?”

To investigate this, Dr. Watabe intends to use an eye-tracker, a high-tech equipment that is available at the Lab.“The eye-tracker is able to detect changes in the eye, and with that I can obtain information on how people focus on their reputational information to find a better business partner he explained.

Dr Watabe plans to conduct this research in Malaysia, which has the advantage of a multicultural society, as well as in Japan and China.

“Neuroscience really opens up a lot of research opportunities, as it helps us to better understand everyday economic behaviours said Associate Professor Alexandre Schaefer.

Dr Schaefer, who has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, said his area of research is focused on consumer decision making and decision-making under uncertainty.

“I’m interested in how people can make decisions when it’s very difficult to predict the outcome of these decisions, for example, how people make a decision of buying a property when the property market is very volatile he said.“The outcome of such research serves not only to understand the forces of the market, but also aids government policy, and can help the government come up with responses that can inform and educate small investors.”

Dr Schaefer said he was also keen on using neuroimaging techniques to help marketing strategies.

“You can use neuroscience techniques to predict if people are going to buy or not to buy a product. You could also potentially record certain patterns of brain activity or brain waves that could predict if a person is willing to pay a certain price for a product, or if a consumer is going to choose a product.

"While there are many people doing this kind of research in the US or UK, I’ve not heard it being done in Southeast Asia. This is why Monash's new initiative is important because it is the opportunity to introduce these techniques in this part of the world, and to investigate consumer decision-making within the specific cultural environment of South-East Asia," he said.

While the lab has been opened for less than a year, Monash University Malaysia is committed to buying even more advanced neuroimaging and behavioural experimental equipment.

Both researchers believe that work at the Lab will lead to many collaboration possibilities with other schools, as well as with the corporate sector.

“The kind of research we do here could be very useful to inform government policy, for example when it comes to pricing public services to make it accessible to more people said Dr Schaeffer.“In the US, for example, collaboration between the universities and the corporate sector is very common. We believe that this can be so even here in Malaysia, and will welcome any form of cooperation."

For more information about Monash University Malaysia and the programs within the School of Business, please visit http://www.buseco.monash.edu.my