Biological Basis of Business


Cleveland, 20-21 Oct 2008, A subset of accepted papers will appear in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes; Deadline 30 Jun

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In recent years, researchers have begun to use biological methods to examine issues related to business. Studies have looked at such topics as the role of genetic factors in leadership, entrepreneurship, and job satisfaction; the role of neural circuits in purchasing decisions, investment behavior, and response to financial reward; the effect of hormones on occupational choice, managerial decisions, and risk taking; the physiological effects on employees of workplace stress, organizational reward systems, and leadership styles; and the biological basis of key managerial issues such as strategic responses in competitive situations; the drive for power; and reputation.

This research has generated some fascinating findings. For instance, we now know that there is a genetic component to leadership. We also know that different parts of the neural system are stimulated by immediate and delayed financial reward. And we know that hormones affect occupational choice. While these are only a few illustrative examples of what studies of the biological basis of business have taught us, most management researchers know little about these findings. Much of the research in this vein has been published in journals that management scholars do not routinely follow, and the different studies themselves have been isolated from one another, making it difficult to see the cumulative set of findings and their effect on management unless scholars systematically look for it. We believe that the time is right to bring the biological basis of business to the attention of the mainstream of the management research community.

Our goal in this Special Research Forum is simple, but also broad. We seek to understand how human biology affects business-related behavior. Therefore, we invite papers that examine any aspect of this topic. Our aims are threefold:

  • First, we aim to bring together research that examines how biological factors affect different areas of management from organization behavior to entrepreneurship to business strategy to financial decision making to marketing. We believe that the phenomenon orientation of management research often leads researchers examining similar theoretical issues in different areas of business study to fail to connect their work. By organizing a special issue around the theme of biology rather than around different business topics as is often the case in management research, we hope to bring together the findings in disparate areas in a way that illuminates the power of the theme.
  • Second, we hope to link together research that takes fundamentally different approaches to examine the biological basis of business. For instance, we want to bring together researchers who conduct behavioral genetics studies with those examining the physiology of emotion and those who use brain imaging to examine brain imaging because we believe that by putting papers from these different perspectives together will help to stimulate thought about the connections between them. These connections are important, we believe, because a biological basis of business will ultimately need to collect all of these pieces into a coherent and related whole.
  • Third, we seek to bring to the attention of the academic community in management the widespread research that has been conducted to examine the biological basis of business, both to introduce additional researchers to the methodologies used in this area, to show the important stylized facts that have been collected, and to demonstrate the evidence for theoretical arguments that have been amassed to date.

Because the domain of this research forum is very broad – the examination of any aspect of biology on any aspect of business – we expect that researchers will identify a number of research questions that we have not thought of. However, in the interest of suggesting ideas, prospective contributors may wish to consider (but are certainly not limited to) the following research questions:

  • Is there a biological component to risk taking? If so, what is it?
  • Do hormones affect occupational choice? If so, how?
  • Are there physiological differences between entrepreneurs and/or managers and the rest of the population? If so, what are they?
  • What parts of the brain are used to make different types of managerial decisions? How does brain function affect decisions in organizations?
  • How do emotions affect decision making?
  • What are the neural mechanisms that underlie key organizational issues such as conformity to authority, creativity and innovation, planning, among other things?
  • What is the biological basis of such things as wishful thinking and organizational sense-making?
  • How does brain function lead to anomalies in intertemporal choice?
  • How does advertising tap brain circuitry for desire and reward?
  • Is there a genetic basis for entrepreneurship, creativity and/or innovation?
  • What are the physiological reactions to work environments and how do they affect organizational behavior?
  • What are the physiological effects of different organizational reward mechanisms, such as money, recognition, and power?
  • How do managerial actions affect hormone release?
  • Are reputations, preferences for organizations, and organizational networks, among other things, encoded dopaminergenically?
  • How does the neural system affect investment behavior?


Submissions are due no later than June 30, 2008. The editors will select papers to be presented at a conference to take place at Case Western Reserve University on October 20-21, 2008 from among the submissions. The travel and accommodation expenses for one author will be paid for by the conference organizers. The papers presented at the conference will then go through the refereeing process. A subset of the papers presented at the conference will be published in a special issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.


For additional information about the conference or special issue, please contact Scott Shane at, or 216-368-5538. Submissions should be sent electronically to Scott Shane.