Student Spotlight – Francesca Walsh

This month’s student spotlight is on MS student Franchesca Walsh. Fran is an MS student working with in Youngbin Kwak’s lab. She is interested in neuroeconomics. Together with her advisor and co-author Erik Cheries, she recently published a commentary entitled, “‘Incentive hope’ and the nature of impulsivity in low-socioeconomic-status individuals” in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press) in which they respond to Anselme and Gunturkun’s Incentive Hope Hypothesis. This motivation mechanism theory brings together neuroscience literature on reward uncertainty and decision making with biology field observations of animal foraging behavior.

Specifically, the finding that animals who experience resource scarcity and harsh environments are more likely to hoard food and over-eat. These animals are also less likely to explore environments, and often take the first available foraging option. Walsh, Kwak, and Cheries extend this theory to explain myopic and impulsive behavior associated with low-income environments that can lead to higher debt and other negative aspects which perpetuate low income status situations. They relate the resource scarcity and uncertainty experienced in these low-income environments with these observed animal foraging behaviors and suggest that understanding how resource scarcity and uncertainty effects decision making can lead to better designed intervention strategies to improve decision making and mitigate wealth and health inequality in society.

Fran is planning on doing her PhD in Neuroscience and Behavior at UMass next year.