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7 How neuroscience can inform public policy
  1. Facundo Manes
  1. Professor of Behavioural Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience INECO Foundation for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience and Institute of Neuroscience – Favaloro University. Argentina


Facundo Manes is an Argentinian neuroscientist. He was born in 1969, and spent his childhood and adolescence in Salto, Buenos Aires Province. He studied at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, where he graduated in 1992, and then at the University of Cambridge, England (Master in Sciences). After completing his postgraduate training abroad (USA and England) he returned to the country with the firm commitment to develop local resources to improve clinical standards and research in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychiatry. He created and currently directs INECO (Institute of Cognitive Neurology) and the Institute of Neurosciences, Favaloro Foundation in Buenos Aires City. Both institutions are world leaders in original scientific publications in cognitive neuroscience. He is also President of the World Federation of Neurology Research Group on Aphasia and Cognitive Disorders (RGACD) and of the Latin American Division of the Society for Social Neuroscience. Facundo Manes has taught at the University of Buenos Aires and the Universidad Católica Argentina. He is currently Professor of Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine and Psychology of the Favaloro University and was appointed Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of South Carolina, USA. He has published over 100 scientific papers in the most prestigious original specialised international journals such as Brain and Nature Neuroscience. He has also given lectures at several international scientific fora as the ‘Royal Society of Medicine’ (London) and the ‘New York Academy of Sciences’, among others. His current area of research is the neurobiology of mental processes. He believes in the importance of scientific disclosure for Society. He led the program ‘The Brain Enigmas’ on Argentina TV and wrote many scientific articles in the national press. Finally, Prof. Facundo Manes is convinced that the wealth of a country is measured by the value of human capital, education, science and technology, and that there is the basis for social development.

In the last two decades, mainly in the developed world, we have seen a remarkable shift in how policies are made. Until the late 1990’s, the ranks of lead policymakers comprised of economists, lawyers, and financial experts. Behavioral scientists are now increasingly being asked to bring their insights and expertise from the laboratory into the ‘real’ world. As a result, many experts in behavioral sciences are playing a much greater role in policymaking across a range of sectors. We have seen the positive results of applying this scientific knowledge in diverse areas of public policy such as taxation, energy, and education, among others. The insights used to design these interventions were evidence-based cognitive and psycho-social discoveries such as the existence of cognitive biases and the importance of social norms in human behavior.

Behavioral units needed to show significant results for a minimum or zero cost in order to prove their worth and thus, cement the incorporation of behavioral sciences into the public sphere. It is time to move on to a renewed level of complexity by designing more comprehensive interventions with deeper implications and long-term results.

The role of neurosciences has been much less explored but shows a promising potential to improve public policy, especially social policy. For instance, the design of anti-poverty programs based on scientific evidence about brain health would be extremely useful to improve the mental capital of persons living in poverty. Findings in neurosciences along the life cycle can be incorporated into the public policy sphere. Understanding the neuroscientific evidence on how to stimulate cognitive and socio-emotional skills among different types of populations is crucial to improve the design of policies and has relevant implications for the mental capital of nations.

Neurosciences can also facilitate the comprehension of those cognitive skills needed for the jobs of the future such as creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy, resilience, cognitive flexibility, and executive functions, among others. Public policy interventions can focus on promoting these skills, which are not fixed and which can be improved and enhanced. Other areas in which evidence from neurosciences can be utilized are: infant development, the adolescent brain, addictions (i.e., opioid epidemic, science and policy of marijuana), neuroeducation or the neuroscientific basis in teaching and learning (i.e., dyslexia), neurolaw (i.e. criminal responsibility, deception, juvenile justice, judges’ decision making, witness testimony), prejudice and empathy, violence and aggression, loneliness, normal aging, the future of mind-tech cyborgs, and the burden of brain disorders.

Behavioral insights are gaining popularity in developed countries. However, is this enough to create positive structural changes in the economy and in social welfare? While it is fair to say that nudges successfully allowed behavioral science to enter the world of policy we still have much work to do to reach social and health long-term improvements. In this regard, advances in neurosciences over the last years could help reshape the way we think about important policies and could be useful in helping individuals develop their maximum potential.

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