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How can neuroscience contribute to the science of intergenerational sustainability?


  • Ryuta Aoki

    () (Tokyo Metropolitan University)

  • Ayahito Ito

    (Research Institute for Future Design, Kochi University of Technology,)

  • Keise Izuma

    (School of Economics and Management, Kochi University of Technology)

  • Tatsuyoshi Saijo

    (Research Institute for Future Design, Kochi University of Technology)


Intergenerational sustainability is an existential problem for humans, and coping with this issue requires large-scale cooperation extended across generations. However, recent empirical evidence suggests that people’s concern for future generations is typically low, which is rooted from human’s cognitive biases (e.g., temporal discounting and bounded empathy) and possibly exacerbated by modern social systems depreciating future generations’ rights and voices. To achieve sustainable society, we need to design and implement novel social institutions that leverage our concern for future generations. In this paper, we discuss how neuroscience can tackle this fundamental challenge in collaboration with other disciplines. We review psychological factors and neural substrates that may underlie decision-making regarding intergenerational sustainability. We also propose empirical approaches to study neural bases of intergenerationally-sustainable decision-making. Notably, neuroimaging research has potential to unveil “hidden†neurobiological processes that are difficult to identify by behavioral observations alone. In addition, neural data can be used to predict real-world outcomes, which complements behavioral and self-report measures that may not always reflect true motives behind decisions. Understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms would provide insights into effective institutions that promote concern for future generations. We prospect that future neuroscience research will accumulate evidence from both laboratory and field experiments, thereby contributing to policy making and the transformation toward sustainable society.

Suggested Citation

  • Ryuta Aoki & Ayahito Ito & Keise Izuma & Tatsuyoshi Saijo, 2020. "How can neuroscience contribute to the science of intergenerational sustainability?," Working Papers SDES-2020-11, Kochi University of Technology, School of Economics and Management, revised Aug 2020.
  • Handle: RePEc:kch:wpaper:sdes-2020-11

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    Cited by:

    1. Tatsuyoshi Saijo, 2020. "Future Design: Bequeathing Sustainable Natural Environments and Sustainable Societies to Future Generations," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(16), pages 1-21, August.

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    intergenerational sustainability; neuroscience; transdisciplinary approach;
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