This year, Temple University’s Fox School of Business planned to host the 10th annual Interdisciplinary Symposium on Decision Neuroscience (ISDN) conference, an annual gathering of researchers and practitioners in the field of decision neuroscience that first started at Temple University in 2010. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference hosts in the Center for Applied Research in Decision Making (CARD) were unsure of how to best move its applied research agenda forward.
Vinod Venkatraman, director of CARD, and Crystal Reeck, associate director of the center, decided to organize a virtual conference on June 5.
“This year was our turn to host ISDN at Temple, and we were planning a big event to celebrate the tenth annual conference,” says Venkatraman. “Instead, we decided to organize a virtual conference to bring all researchers together.”
Adapting to an online platform rather than an in-person international conference comes with many challenges—not only for the organizers but also for the attendees.
“It’s a lot harder to read the room over the camera and attend a conference the same way,” says Reeck, “But, it went really smoothly and ended up sparking a dynamic exchange of ideas around each presentation.”
“We were pleased that we could maintain the same amount of interaction at the online event as the in-person one,” adds Venkatraman.
The organizers decided to set a limit of 50 attendees in order to keep the conference discussion-based. The event covered many new applied methods and research in the field of decision neuroscience. The first session mainly focused on core research in neuroeconomics, a field that works to understand human decision making and connect it to consumer actions. The second part of the day discussed research applications.
“In the first half, people were trying to understand more about the brain and how it functions with certain concepts,” relays Venkatraman. “The second half we spent asking, if we understand how the brain functions, then what do we do with that kind of information? How can we apply that to more practical problems?”
“Both sides of the discussion are important. You need to both advance our understanding of how the brain functions and how to translate it to more practical real-world applications,” adds Venkatraman.
From examining the brain’s stimulation to live theatre to a concept called neuroforecasting (predicting future events based on neural study), the conference was full of new and exciting research on topics related to both the fundamentals and applications of decision neuroscience.
“One of the things I found most inspiring was the range of things people are working on,” says Reeck. “I hadn’t really thought about using these techniques to figure out how people respond to live theatre, for example.”
Both the organizers and attendees agree that this conference helped to actually change the way they conduct research and apply it to the big questions.
“It made me feel inspired and tap into what is one of the best things about being an academic researcher—to generate and pursue interesting and important questions and ideas,” explains attendee Carolyn Yoon, professor of marketing at the University of Michigan.
Joseph Devlin, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London (UCL), also attended the virtual conference. “I was impressed with the range of topics and methodologies that were covered. I also met another participant doing related work and that has led to some additional discussions,” he says. “We may end up doing some work together that would not have happened without this meeting.”
The goal of the conference, and CARD more broadly, is to focus on translational research. This means considering not only the examination of concepts but the practical applications into the marketplace.
Researchers in the field of Decision Neuroscience, like many others, face many challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“One of the unique challenges we have with our work is that we need to have someone physically present in a laboratory to do it. If you’re going to collect any kind of neuroscience data, you actually need access to someone’s brain,” says Reeck. “You can’t do it through a Zoom call or a survey. That’s one of the forms of research that’s going to be really slow to come back.”
This Symposium on Decision Neuroscience was a great way to foster discussion and presentation of applied research, even though the researchers may face obstacles going forward.
“A lot of the work that was presented that day was new work that we haven’t seen before,” explains Venkatraman. “Being able to hear about it, share feedback and shape how that work is going to be applied is something everyone really appreciated.”