Entrepreneurship research and teaching are key activities for the development of any society, as they drive the creation of a new innovative business fabric. Thus, the discipline of Entrepreneurship has grown to achieve its own identity within Business Studies. It is a field of knowledge that is incorporated into the educational offer as a university career to professionalize the act of undertaking and promoting the creation of sustainable and quality initiatives.
Entrepreneurship study is interested in the functioning of the brain and the mind and how these are related to entrepreneurial behavior. Some of its objects of study are thoughts, motivations, risk-taking, uncertainty management, opportunity perception, entrepreneurial intentions, or the mental process that leads from intention to behavior.
These objects have been approached using, for the most part, observation and survey methods, that is, from a conscious level that leaves the door open for the subject to introduce biases in their responses. However, at an unconscious level, phenomena occur that greatly influence behavior.
Working at the anatomical and physiological levels, more objective data are obtained that broaden the understanding of human behavior, avoiding cognitive biases. With this purpose, Entrepreneurship expands its focus and incorporates neuroscience into its research field.
Neuroscience of entrepreneurship
The neuroscience of entrepreneurship, or neuroentrepreneurship, looks at the physiology of entrepreneur behavior. First, it tries to determine if an entrepreneurial person’s brain is morphologically distinct from a non-entrepreneur one. Second, it seeks to predict behavior and anticipate the entrepreneur’s future actions by observing what happened previously in his brain. His fields of study include, among others, decision-making, emotion, intuition, and intention.
Neuroscience studies have identified the reward circuits and networks activated when deciding on conditions of risk and uncertainty. These activations occur before, even seconds, before the person becomes aware of her choice.
It could be said that our brain “decides” before we can manifest our choices, and neuroentrepreneurship could predict it.
Entrepreneurial behavior is wrapped in ambiguity that affects the emotionality of the person. These emotions have conscious and unconscious components. The conscious are evaluated with the traditional methods of study of the social sciences. At the same time, for the unconscious, neuroscience offers new methods that increase the rigor of the discipline and distance it from pseudoscientific positions.
Intuition is related to the exploration of new opportunities in the business field. It is a complex mental response that combines automatic and rational elements, activating specific neural networks.
In this way, we know that the circuits activated when exploring new opportunities are different from those activated when someone exploits existing options. This information serves, for example, to improve the development of organizational ambidexterity theory and design intuition training programs with a good scientific basis.
Intention, together with attitude and self-efficacy, make up a triad of factors that predicts entrepreneurial behavior fairly well. Neuroscience seeks to identify intention as early as possible, find out what comes before it, predict it, and direct it.
Psychology affirms that planned behaviors, such as entrepreneurship, occur at a conscious level. However, Neuroscience maintains that it is possible to detect the intention before the subject becomes aware.
As for attitude, which is influenced by the person’s values, beliefs, and prejudices, neuroentrepreneurship can help us understand how these prejudices and cognitive biases manifest themselves when a person is analyzing a new stimulus, for example, when evaluating some opportunity to start.
Neurodiversity and neuroentrepreneurship
neuroentrepreneurship can also contribute to the field of neurodiversity. Certain neurodiversity, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or high-performance autism (TEA), can represent an advantage for entrepreneurship rather than a disadvantage.
Some of these people’s cognitive and behavioral characteristics give them advantages in undertaking and performing certain jobs. Such is the case of attention to detail, persistence in achieving goals, or a different look to detect opportunities. From neuroentrepreneurship, new paths can be opened to the inclusion and employability of neurodiverse people, who in entrepreneurship can find a way to develop fully. Thus, it can help create educational programs adapted to an increasingly diverse environment, mentoring programs for diverse entrepreneurs, or training teachers to serve these students adequately.
We see how the neuroscience of entrepreneurship can contribute to a better understanding of entrepreneurial behavior from many angles, although this behavior cannot be explained only through neuroscientific studies.
The human is much more complex than his brain, so triangulating information obtained from the different methodologies and fields of research is the way to understand entrepreneurial behavior comprehensively.
The article was written in collaboration with Sherlyn Quetzal López and Luis Enrique Jiménez Trejo at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Business School.