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Judgement and Decision-Making

By Stefan Bode, Jutta Stahl, Daniel Bennett, Carsten Murawski

Judgment and Decision-Making: Influencing Future Decisions?

You might have heard about love at first sight and you might have dismissed it off-hand as something that does not really happen. However, the University of Melbourne researchers have found that most people make snap decisions at an unconscious level. First impressions are important and the brain does make spot decisions based on several critical factors. According to researchers, almost 90% of people make immediate decisions about images, objects, and people based on this unconscious feature. This happens even before the brain has had time to consciously process information about images, objects or people.

Published in the PLOS ONE, the study was carried out by researchers by exposing a set group of people to images while they were being tracked by an EEG. The researchers studied brain images as they reacted to set stimuli before they could consciously judge or feel what they were looking at. The study was designed to flash objects in a box at an extremely rapid rate so that study participants did not have time to gather their thoughts. The EEG monitored brain waves and tracked just how much it was possible to make a person think of the future or the past by viewing the randomly presented images. The study results were quite surprising.

According to researchers, the brain was able to process images and encode judgments in a viable time frame before the person was even aware of what they were looking at. The brain worked even before the person recognized the image and created tangible thought. For example, a recovering gambler could be watching TV and come across a gambling advertisement. The conscious mind could click away from the ad rapidly, but the brain would have already processed the ad and this would increase the chances of the person relapsing into his gambling addiction. This study also showed that customers make complex decisions regarding car purchases by this same predictive awareness. In fact, researchers were able to show that these complex decisions could also be predicted due to the unconscious evaluation process of the brain (located in the medial prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula).

For scientists, this is an exciting discovery. With this unconscious processing feature, it might be possible for researchers to tailor-make long term behavioral therapies. It may also be possible to reduce impulsive behavior and encourage healthy long-term decisions.  For example, hearing dice rolling or cards shuffling could push recovering gamblers into their addiction. However, by understanding just how the brain reacts to these prompts, it makes it possible to change these behaviors as well. EEG images could provide an accurate location in the brain that prompts these impulses. By tracking this area, scientists would also be able to stop these impulses before they turned into tangible thoughts.

Source: Stefan Bode, Jutta Stahl, Daniel Bennett, Carsten Murawski. Distributed Patterns of Event-Related Potentials Predict Subsequent Ratings of Abstract Stimulus Attributes. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (10): e109070 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109070