Prof. dr. Emily Murphy was keynote spreker tijdens het symposium The Future of the Mind, georganiseerd door Radboud Healthy Brain
Prof. dr. Emily Murphy was keynote spreker tijdens het symposium The Future of the Mind, georganiseerd door Radboud Healthy Brain

Consider people's brain health in new policies too

Policymakers should not make choices based on economic growth and productivity but on Collective Cognitive Capital, says Emily Murphy in her opening speech at The Future of the Mind symposium, organised by Radboud Healthy Brain. Neuroscientists and behavioural scientists play an important role in this, she feels.

Suppose you drive somewhere you haven't been before. Your sat nav easily gets you from A to B. Meanwhile, you may not realise that this navigation device reduces your ability to navigate and that your smartphone affects your ability to concentrate.

Skills and human well-being are increasingly influenced by new technologies, argues Emily Murphy during her keynote at the symposium.

Brain science in the service of well-being

How can we use data from brain and behavioural sciences in making policies to improve our cognitive well-being? “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time and money trying to understand how we think and behave,” says Murphy. “How can we apply this information?” Murphy explains that we need to harness brain and behavioural sciences when making and evaluating decisions. Decisions about how we govern ourselves and how we achieve what government should ideally do, which is to promote the general well-being of all people. “Improving people's well-being is the domain of law, but also of behavioural and brain sciences,” according to Murphy.

The concept of ‘nudging’ has long been popular in policies to get individuals to make better, healthier choices. “Nudging is the practice of subtly directing people through cues from the environment, such as influencing food choices.”

Murphy believes that nudging is too limited for many contemporary issues. Questions like how do toxins, nutrition and a warmer climate affect our ability to think and act require a focus on people's capacities and on the collective rather than the individual. Air pollution and warmer classrooms, for example, have a direct impact on brain function and mental health.

Collective Cognitive Capital

Murphy introduces the idea of ‘Collective Cognitive Capital’, a framework for integrating data from behavioural and brain sciences into policy-making. Policymakers speak the language of economic capital: money. Instead of trying to change this language, Murphy feels that we can use it to our advantage by seeing our cognition in terms of capital. Like monetary capital, cognitive capital is subject to fluctuations and is affected by environmental factors, such as nutrition, workload and air pollution.

Murphy explains that she uses the term ‘cognitive’ in a very broad sense, including emotion regulation, social skills and cognitive resilience. On the latter, she explains how the huge amount of paperwork in many jobs today begs the question: should the government burden us with this? A realistic understanding of people's cognitive resilience could inform policy-making about a permissible amount of paperwork.

Murphy then discusses the term ‘collective’, explaining that our cognitive abilities are not the product of our individual brains, but of collective efforts. We need to think about improving people's cognitive abilities and well-being in an overarching sense, not at the individual level.

With the concept of Collective Cognitive Capital, Murphy makes a start to provide a mindset for researchers, society and, above all, governments. A mindset that focuses on the brain health of groups of people and thus also increases the freedom and actionability of individuals.

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