Am I biased or random?
October 18, 2005 8:55 AM Subscribe
I'm interested in the neuroscience behind decision making: specifically, do people have "random number generators" in their brains for breaking decision stalemates?
posted by grumblebee to science & nature (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lets say someone offers me an apple and there are two on the table in front of me. How do I choose which one to take?
If they are different from each other, I can rely on all sorts of criteria: I prefer redder apples; I prefer larger apples; etc. But suppose they seem identical and I really want an apple. I MUST choose between them SOMEHOW or I'll be sitting there forever staring at the two apples. There's a clear survival advantage to breaking these kinds of stalemates.
If I was modeling this situation in an A.I. program, I can think of two possible solutions:
1) Include a random "coin-flip" module which is invoked when all more reasonable decision-making procedures fail.
2) Include arbitrary biases.
Expanding on 2: when we see no qualitative difference between two apples, do we just default to the one on the left (or the one on the right)? This might differ between two people -- one might always choose left and the other might always choose right -- but would a single person always make the same biased choice under the similar circumstances?
If so, there must be dozens of these "defaults" built into the brain (pick the one on the left, pick the bigger one, pick the nearest one, etc.) A random-number generator seems like a simpler method.
But if these biases do exist, are they universal (or close to universal)? Do all people tend to pick the left one? Is there a list somewhere of these biases? [This could be useful for interface design and many other disciplines!] Is it cultural? Do Americans pick the left apple while Chinese pick the right apple?
If there is a random-number generator, do we know how it works? Is the generator only evoked as a last resort (if all "better" decision making processes fail)? Or does it sometimes trump "higher-level" processes?
I guess the same question could be asked for the biases. Do we sometimes choose an apple just because it's on the left, rather than because it looks tastier?