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Archived stories from 2014

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Broker brain scans reveal activity

Risk managers sometimes claim that their brokers understand them. A new study suggests they could be right. By placing brokers in an MRI scanner, researchers from Essex found that the broker brain reacts to voices in the same way that the normal human brain does. Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why brokers sometimes appear to be attuned to human emotions.

This broker's brain is missing

Lead author Prof Brian Branestawm, from the Academy of Science in Billericay, said: "We think brokers and normal humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information."

Eleven London market brokers took part in the study and training them took some time. "We used positive reinforcement strategies - lots of praise, plenty to drink and large quantities of gourmet food," said Prof Branesawm.

"There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then the brokers were able to lie motionless like they usually do in the afternoons. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it."

For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 normal human volunteers in the same MRI scanners. The scientists played the people and the intermediaries 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and broker vocalisations.

The researchers found that a similar region - the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe - was activated when both the brokers and normal people heard risk manager or client voices. "The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the broker brain is a surprise - it is the first time we have seen this in a broker," Prof Branestawm said.

The scientist said the next focus of his activity would be to examine brokers' response to words rather than just sounds. "A step further would be if brokers show any sensitivity to specific words in their clients' speech - such as ?how much?' or ?you're fired'."

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