Money, when used as an incentive, activates the same neural circuits as rewards associated with physiological needs. However, unlike physiological rewards, monetary stimuli are cultural artifacts: how are monetary stimuli identified in the first place? How and when does the brain identify a valid coin, i.e. a disc of metal that is, by social agreement, endowed with monetary properties? We took advantage of the changes in the Euro area in 2002 to compare neural responses to valid coins (Euros, Australian Dollars) with neural responses to invalid coins that have lost all monetary properties (French Francs, Finnish Marks). We show in magneto-encephalographic recordings, that the ventral visual pathway automatically distinguishes between valid and invalid coins, within only ~150 ms. This automatic categorization operates as well on coins subjects were familiar with as on unfamiliar coins. No difference between neural responses to scrambled controls could be detected. These results could suggest the existence of a generic, all-purpose neural representation of money that is independent of experience. This finding is reminiscent of a central assumption in economics, money fungibility, or the fact that a unit of money is substitutable to another. From a neural point of view, our findings may indicate that the ventral visual pathway, a system previously thought to analyze visual features such as shape or color and to be influenced by daily experience, could also able to use conceptual attributes such as monetary validity to categorize familiar as well as unfamiliar visual objects. The symbolic abilities of the posterior fusiform region suggested here could constitute an efficient neural substrate to deal with culturally defined symbols, independently of experience, which probably fostered money's cultural emergence and success.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology