The entrepreneurial brain

Elena Ortiz. Professor. IE Business School

1 May 2014

A recent study has revealed that in decisionmaking processes entrepreneurs are faster and more impulsive when it comes to analyzing information.

Entrepreneurs take decisions in a different way. Their brains process the information faster and the cerebral areas involved in these processes are also different. This is the main finding of the research on “Brain cortical organization of entrepreneurs during visual Stroop decision task” which I have been working on jointly with IE Business School professor Peter Bryant and UCM Professors Tomás Ortiz, Agustín Turrero, and Juan M Santos.

In order to reach this conclusion we had to consider four aspects: personality, behavioral responses, reaction times and areas of cerebral activation. The group of entrepreneurs were made up of people who had founded at least one company within a broad range of sectors (technology, leisure, health, marketing, education, etc.), while non-entrepreneurs were chosen based on gender, age, and level of education.
In order to gauge personalities we used the Cloninger questionnaire on temprament and character. It is a psychobiological model that distinguishes between the personality components that are inherited to a moderate extent and tend to be stable over time (temperament) and those which appear as the person develops as a result of learning mechanisms by socio-cultural means (character). The results show that the most significant difference to the control group lies in levels of impulsiveness, which is related to the desire to seek new sensations. The research in the field of decisionmaking was carried out by means of Electroencephalography (EEG), whereby participants had to undertake a  “Stroop” test, which consisted of differentiating between the world and the color in which a word appears within a group of words written in different colors.

The behavioral results indicated that both entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs had the same percentage of correct responses (97%), while the latter responded more quickly. With regard to the analysis of the results of electrical activity in the brain by means of potential registered during the “Stroop” test, we observed that entrepreneurs have a faster cerebral response than the non-entrepreneurs, by about 200 miliseconds. This means that entrepreneurs manage to analyze incongruent information and provide an answer sooner, having greater levels of cerebral activity in supplementary motor areas (responsible for motor processes), while non-entrepreneurs take more time to analyze the incongruent information and use posterior cerebral areas (responsible for perceptive processes). At the end of the cognitive process of decisionmaking, however, which comprised  450 milliseconds, entrepreneurs dedicated more time and had more cerebral activity in the frontal areas of the brain (responsible for more complex cognitive processes) to close said process, while this phase was shorter in the case of non-entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, we can argue that the feature that characterizes entrepreneurs in terms of decisionmaking processes is a certain level of impulsiveness coupled with swift cerebral analysis of the information, an earlier motor response, and slowness in bringing the cognitive process to a close.


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