Field Notes from Beijing

The Good:
Vertical integration of scientific research. Although disciplinary boundaries are still much more pronounced in China than the US, there is something really exciting about the vertical integration in the various disciplines. I saw a talk where a single group went through genetic screening in thousands of patients, followed up with a set of studies involving interrogation of gene candidates using animal models and in vitro approaches.

This has a definite beauty and logic to it, since many of our most pressing research questions are problem-based as opposed to disciplinary based. One can get out much of the value of interdisciplinary research by simply stacking the different disciplines together. Conversly, I can’t imagine what grant reviewer would say if I proposed to do something like this in the US.

Unlikely to catch on, ever: smog-chic.
The Bad
Undoubtedly the air pollution. After a couple of days with a gloriously blue sky, courtesy of a Siberian weather system, I got the full Beijing treatment of code red air quality. That meant wearing masks even when inside. Hopefully this is the darkest hour before it gets better. I even overheard migrant workers talking about going back to their villages because of the pollution. Surely the developmental curve has caught up to the point that economic development – life quality tradeoff is moving towards the latter.

So where's the part where I eat worms?
The Totally Awesome
Crampons! Ice axes! Jokes about drinking your own urine! It’s ice climbing at the foot of the Great Wall!

There is something hugely satisfying and soothing about the dull thud of the ice axe into the ice. It was much more accessible than I had thought, but of course I was with serious professionals. I think I just found my new hobby.

Upcoming Talk Schedules at Peking University

Two upcoming talks in Beijing. I had a good chuckle when I saw how utterly different these talks are. There are no shortage of labs that are bigger and more productive than us, but I think we are building something quite special and not easily replicated elsewhere. :-)

IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research
: 15Dec. 13:00 - 15:00pm
Location: Room 1113, Wangkezhen Building

Title: Oscillatory mechanisms underlying decision-making under uncertainty

Abstract: Despite tremendous recent progress in elucidating core neurocomputational components that underlie economic decision-making, we still know little about the mechanisms that coordinate the various signals within and across various brain regions. Here I will discuss results from recent electrocorticography (ECoG) studies suggesting a fundamental role of neural oscillations in governing intra- and inter-regional communication during decision-making. Specifically, we recorded local field potentials in the prefrontal cortex of in neurosurgical patients who were engaged in a gambling task. ECoG signals reflect the coordinated activity of ensembles of hundreds of thousands of neurons, and are uniquely poised to reveal fast, circuit-level computations in the human brain. We found that different aspects of the gambling game generated event-related changes in oscillatory activity across multiple areas and frequency bands. Furthermore, oscillatory interactions between lateral and orbital prefrontal regions support cognitive processes underlying decision-making under uncertainty. Together, these data highlight the importance of network dynamics in characterizing neural basis of economic decision-making.

Guanghua School of Business
Time: 16.Dec. 13:30-15:00pm
Location: Room217, Guanghua Building 2

Title: Inside The Mind of the Consumer: Thoughts, Feelings, and Experiences

Abstract: Researchers and practitioners have long relied on self-report methods to understand how consumers evaluate, choose, and experience different product offerings. These methods, however, have remained largely unchanged since their introduction decades ago and have a number of well-known limitations. As a result, there is growing interest in brain-based approaches that may enable consumer researchers and managers to directly probe customers’ underlying thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Here I will describe recent progress and open questions in using such methods in understanding customer mindsets.