Scientists are renowned for being a little odd. In case that wasn’t clear enough, a group of neuroscientists has now recorded the neurological activity of other neuroscientists looking at neuroscience journals.
As self-referentially absurd as that sounds, it was actually part of a study in the journal PLOS ONE that looked at the what gets scientists’ brains ticking; money, or a mention in a prestigious journal?
Importantly, it wanted to discover how the reward system of the brain can adapt in response to different social and cultural paradigms. “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash,” as they say. For example, although the fairly “universal” wants of food, sleep, and sex appear to transcend cultures, a breifcase full of cash bills probably wouldn’t do much for a caveman’s reward system.
The group, from the University of Lübeck, also looked at whether scientists are guided by the incentive of Journal Impact Factor (JFI). JFI is the measure of a journal’s eminence by looking at the average number of citations a journal’s papers receive each year. Even though many criticize the usefulness of JFI to reflect a journal’s academic or scientific quality, the study hoped to see if the idea of a scientist’s name featuring on a high JFI journal still got their brain’s reward center (i.e. their nucleus accumbens) pumping.
Part of the study involved putting neuroscientists under the watchful eye of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. They showed neuroscientists two different sets of images: one showing varying amounts of money (low, medium and high) and one showing mock-ups of their names on scientific papers with varying JFIs (also low, medium and high).
The result showed more activity in the nucleus accumbens when shown their name shining in a prestigious journal over fat stacks of cash.
Taking a little pinch from the realm of microeconomics, the scientists said socio-economic behavior is a response to incentives that we weigh up against the negatives. However, for most of society, it is believed that money guides and determines behavior on the labor market, but for those working in academic science, the currency is all about JFI.
As the study says, “From a broader perspective, our study demonstrates how the reward system sensitively adapts to the new and upcoming paradigms in society, and helps to provide an understanding of persistence and success in a highly competitive environment.”
See, it wasn’t just an in-joke after all.
Image credit: University of Lübeck