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Resource Allocation in the Brain


  • Alonso, Ricardo
  • Brocas, Isabelle
  • Carrillo, Juan D


When an individual performs several tasks simultaneously, resources must be allocated to different brain systems to produce energy for neurons to fire. Following the evidence from neuroscience, we model the brain as an organization in which a coordinator allocates limited resources to the brain systems responsible for the different tasks. Systems are privately informed about the amount of resources necessary to perform their task and compete to obtain the resources. The coordinator arbitrates the demands while satisfying the resource constraint. We show that the optimal mechanism is to impose to each system with privately known needs a cap in resources that depends negatively on the amount of resources requested by the other system. This allocation can be implemented using a physiologically plausible mechanism. Finally, we provide some implications of our theory: (i) performance is inversely related to the difficulty of the task and can be flawless for sufficiently simple tasks, (ii) the dynamic allocation rule exhibits inertia (current allocations are increasing in past needs), and (iii) different cognitive tasks are performed by different systems only if the tasks are sufficiently important.

Suggested Citation

  • Alonso, Ricardo & Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D, 2011. "Resource Allocation in the Brain," CEPR Discussion Papers 8408, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8408

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Arthur J. Robson & Larry Samuelson, 2009. "The Evolution of Time Preference with Aggregate Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1925-1953, December.
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    4. Ricardo Alonso & Niko Matouschek, 2008. "Optimal Delegation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(1), pages 259-293.
    5. Barbera, Salvador & Jackson, Matthew O. & Neme, Alejandro, 1997. "Strategy-Proof Allotment Rules," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 1-21, January.
    6. Martimort, David & Semenov, Aggey, 2008. "The informational effects of competition and collusion in legislative politics," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(7), pages 1541-1563, July.
    7. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "Why Would Nature Give Individuals Utility Functions?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 900-929, August.
    8. Koessler, Frédéric & Martimort, David, 2012. "Optimal delegation with multi-dimensional decisions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 147(5), pages 1850-1881.
    9. Brocas, Isabelle, 2012. "Information processing and decision-making: Evidence from the brain sciences and implications for economics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 83(3), pages 292-310.
    10. Geanakoplos, John & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "A theory of hierarchies based on limited managerial attention," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 205-225, September.
    11. Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D., 2005. "A theory of haste," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 1-23, January.
    12. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "The Biological Basis of Economic Behavior," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(1), pages 11-33, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:eecrev:v:100:y:2017:i:c:p:463-487 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Gerhardt, Holger & Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah & Willrodt, Jana, 2017. "Does self-control depletion affect risk attitudes?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 463-487.
    3. Andrew Caplin & Daniel Martin, 2016. "The Dual-Process Drift Diffusion Model: Evidence From Response Times," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(2), pages 1274-1282, April.
    4. Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D., 2014. "Dual-process theories of decision-making: A selective survey," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 45-54.

    More about this item


    mechanism design; multiple brain systems; neural darwinism; neuroeconomic theory;

    JEL classification:

    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D87 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Neuroeconomics

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