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3 Key Findings About Decisions and the Brain

first_img Share Share Tweet 62 Views   no discussions HealthLifestyle 3 Key Findings About Decisions and the Brain by: – August 19, 2014center_img Share Sharing is caring! We pride ourselves—and, yes, I’m included in that “we”—on making considered decisions, thought-out ones, and veering away from making snap judgments based on little or no information. But, despite our insistence that we are always “reasoning,” the fact is that a lot of the time, we’re not. What’s to blame? The brain.Human beings are actually hardwired to make snap judgments, or engage in what Daniel Kahneman has called “fast” thinking, and much of it takes place outside of our conscious awareness. This may have you feeling a bit like a puppet on a string, but consider the following research and ask yourself, “Who’s driving the car that’s you?”1. “Primes” influence our responses and thoughts.Did you know that if you ask people to think about a library, they’re more likely to lower their voices to a whisper? And that the smell of cleanser in the air makes people more likely to clean up after themselves? Cues in the physical environment actually evoke specific thoughts and reactions, without our being aware of their provenance. There’s a pretty obvious evolutionary advantage to this kind of reactivity—the brain metaphorically sniffing out a potential danger before you actually see it—but it continues to influence human behavior in meaningful ways. For example, as John Bargh and Tanya L. Chartrand found, when participants in an experiment were primed to complete sentences with words associated with rudeness (“aggressively,” “annoying,” etc.), they were more likely to behave rudely than those who were primed with polite words (“respect,” “courteous”) or neutral words.Even objects in a room can cue behavior, as another experiment by John Bargh and his colleagues demonstrated. In this case, the trappings of capitalism and making money provided the priming backdrop (a conference table, briefcase, suit and dress shoes, etc.) and the question posed was whether these objects would make participants more competitive. It turns out that they did. Given a word fragment to complete, one of which was c_ _p_ _ _tive, 70% of those who were primed with objects representing business completed the world as competitive, compared to 42% of unprimed subjects. That fragment, by the way, could also be completed as cooperative.These findings confirm what we tacitly acknowledge in the real world: That the trappings of power, whether in the office of a player in law or business with the big mahogany desk or in the Oval Office, are a home court advantage.A recent study by Adam D. Pazda and his colleagues discovered that women judged a woman wearing red to be more sexually receptive than a woman in white, more promiscuous, and were more likely to display jealousy and mate-guarding behavior if a woman wearing a red dress, instead of a green one, was involved! Really…..Think about that the next time you accuse your date/lover/spouse of flirting and just make sure that you’re reacting to real behavior, and not to the flash and dance of a red dress.2. Our brains take shortcutsThey do indeed and the real problem is that unless we know to look for those shortcuts or biases in thinking, we’re absolutely clueless about the fact it’s happening. I’ve written about these biases before but the key one is, I think, the availability heuristic. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: The faster something comes to mind, the more credibility and importance you’re going to assign to it. Of course, its popping up first has nothing to do with either credibility or importance but is a function of the brain’s really fast sifting for information needed to solve a problem at hand, a question that needs answering, or a decision to be made. As Daniel Kaheman notes, availability is enhanced by personal connection (your car was broken into so you assume robberies are on the rise in your formerly safe neighborhood), discussions in the media (the focus on three recent plane crashes convinces you flying is no longer safe), as well as vividness and drama (the Aurora and Newtown shootings make you think movie theatres and schools are universal targets).The good news, as Kaheman reports, is that the availability heuristic can be beaten by reconsidering the thought and questioning its content. For example, realizing that the availability heuristic is at work, you look at the car break-in and consider it a one-shot, not a trend, and decide against installing expensive floodlights over your driveway. This particular mental shortcut influences decision-making small and large—buying your lottery ticket at a convenience store fifteen miles away because someone won there last week or deciding not to move to Florida because of the danger of sinkholes—so checking what’s behind what you’re calling “thinking” (is it the availability heuristic or do I have real information at hand?) is key, 3. First impressions operate unconsciously.You take an immediate shine to Jason or Jill because you’re certain that he or she is open and honest. You instantly dislike Craig or Caroline, because your gut tells you he or she is utterly untrustworthy. Even though you’ll doubtless come up with what you think are perfectly reasonable explanations for these beliefs, the reality is that you’ve assigned traits to these folks based on your perception of their faces. How long did it take you to form a first impression? About 100 milliseconds. Yes, the whole process takes a tenth of a second and, if you’re wondering, the blink of an eye takes considerably longer.That’s precisely what a series of experiments by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found when participants viewed photos of individuals for varied lengths of time and identified the traits they associated with the faces. The lengths of time were 100 milliseconds, 500 milliseconds (one half second) and 1000 milliseconds (one second). Among the traits considered were trustworthiness, competence, likeability, attractiveness, aggressiveness, ambition, and extraversion.Perhaps most striking about the findings was that these true snap judgments were highly correlated with judgments made in the absence of time constraints. And did longer exposure to a face necessarily make the first impression more reliable? Actually, not; when the exposure time was increased from 100 to 500 milliseconds, judgment became more negative! The researchers opine that yet another bias—this one the person-positivity bias—may operate when the amount of information we have to go on to make a judgment is minimal but may decrease when there’s more information and time. Increasing the time from 500 to 1000 milliseconds didn’t change people’s judgments, but their confidence in their judgments increased. Thus, the authors write, “additional encounters with a person may serve only to justify quick, initial, on-line judgments.”Needless to say, this automatic appraisal is something we need to keep in mind both in the real world and on social media, especially on-line dating.Research continues to reveal that human behavior and motivation may not rely on consciousness as much as we like to think. The answer to the question “Who’s driving the car that’s you” may, in the end, prove to be quite complicated.Psychology Todaylast_img read more

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