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Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking

CowboyNeal posted about 6 years ago | from the have-no-choice-but-to-post-this dept.

Medicine 244

WSJdpatton writes "Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision — an eternity at the speed of thought. Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice, writes WSJ's Robert Lee Hotz."

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244 comments

10 seconds. (4, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | about 6 years ago | (#23980451)

I'm not sure I can accept this... Primarily because I generally make a decision less than 10 seconds after receiving the final piece of information that I will use to make the decision - often, it's even less than 10 seconds after I knew I had a decision to make. So, how can I have made it before I knew I had to make it? I think the article needs to clarify their definition of "decision".

I believe it. (5, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | about 6 years ago | (#23980493)

A common trick I like to do to figure out what I'm thinking:

If I'm having trouble deciding something, I flip a coin. Then, I go with the side I was hoping would come up.

Re:I believe it. (5, Funny)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | about 6 years ago | (#23980853)

And if your decision requires more than a yes/no answer? Do you use a 64-sided die and assign a choice to each side, and then memorize those assignments?

Re:I believe it. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981093)

Sure. Don't you? :)

Re:I believe it. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981353)

was that supposed to be funny or are you just stupid?

Re:I believe it. (3, Funny)

$0.02 (618911) | about 6 years ago | (#23981851)

Why would anyone use 64-sided die when 6 coins can do the trick?

Re:I believe it. (2, Interesting)

Maxime (1178763) | about 6 years ago | (#23982043)

I see the funny side of your comment, but 6 coins aren't equivalent to a 64 dice: they are indistinguishable so HHHTTT == TTTHHH.

Re:I believe it. (2, Informative)

Gewalt (1200451) | about 6 years ago | (#23982117)

000000-111111 in binary is 64 possible choices.

Re:I believe it. (1)

ThorGod (456163) | about 6 years ago | (#23980953)

Dude, my best friend does this! Is your first name...Matt?

Re:I believe it. (5, Interesting)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | about 6 years ago | (#23981163)

I used to do the same thing.

This study doesn't bring anything new to the table - we've known for a LOOOONG time that what we perceive as "consciousness" is really more akin to a "ghost in the machine."

What is important, however, is that, despite all this, we can actually, with enough thought, make decisions based on logic, as opposed to "feelings" or "what we think is reasonable."

Most of what we do, we do on "autopilot", and our consciousness re-orders the stream of events so that we believe we "decided" to do what we did. Classic example - think of any time when you jammed on the brakes because of someone who rushed in front of the car ... and think back, and you'll realize that you already had braked before you even were aware of the person, because even the half-second lag between perception and stepping on the brake pedal would have been too long.

Re:I believe it. (5, Funny)

rnswebx (473058) | about 6 years ago | (#23981525)

What is important, however, is that, despite all this, we can actually, with enough thought, make decisions based on logic, as opposed to "feelings" or "what we think is reasonable."

That's a lot of commas.

Re:I believe it. (2, Funny)

Da Cheez (1069822) | about 6 years ago | (#23982059)

One of my old English teachers used to call that a "Comma-kazi."

Re:I believe it. (1)

lastchance_000 (847415) | about 6 years ago | (#23981753)

I tend to agree with your observation, but I have to give you -1 for "gratuitous" use of "quotation marks."

Re:10 seconds. (5, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 6 years ago | (#23980497)

Well, give yourself a little more time and think it over, then maybe you'll accept it.

Re:10 seconds. (5, Interesting)

John_Sauter (595980) | about 6 years ago | (#23980619)

The major experiment uses a flawed definition of "decision". If I were the subject it might take me several seconds of unconscious cogitation to formulate a plan: when the next letter flashes I will press the left button, for example. The real decision is made below the level of consciousness, so the letter recorded is the one shown when the action is started, not the one shown when the decision-making process is started.

This is similar to driving a car. When you are driving to a well-known destination, when do you "decide" to turn the steering wheel to enter the parking lot? At the conscious level you decide when you see the driveway, and that there is no traffic in your way. The real decision, however, is made as part of the plan to drive to your destination, which may have been decided minutes or hours earlier.

The experiment is really about the unconscious part of the decision-making process. That is interesting, but it has nothing to do with free will, since our unconscious is as much a part of us as our conscious.

Re:10 seconds. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981193)

>The major experiment uses a flawed definition of "decision".
No, it's you.
>If I were the subject it might take me several seconds of unconscious cogitation to formulate a plan
this is not a decision and this is what you find unacceptable.
>when the next letter flashes I will press the left button, for example.
this is the decision.
>At the conscious level you decide when you see the driveway, and that there is no traffic in your way.
This is done at the unconscious level before you have this impression.
>The real decision, however, is made as part of the plan to drive to your destination, which may have been decided minutes or hours earlier.
There was another decision taken then, but they are not connected. If they were, and they can, then you could have a problem because your decision process could get short circuited by the other decision and lead to an accident.
It has been heavily researched and documented by airplane pilots and there is even live recording of pilots who are crashing their jets and talk during the whole 30s documenting about what they should do now and yet they don't do it. Their decision process was blocked by another decision. Most of the time it comes from personal problems, stress that is work or family related.

Mostly, people want to connect their conscious thoughts and free will and the decisions they take because they feel like it is so, bacause they don't take a lot of decisions very often mostly.
But people who have to live on the result of hundred of fast, instataneous, decisions, from piloting to sport or music, know that they are not connected on the instant. People who experience it by accident often describes the resulting action as if "they were watching themselves" doing it.
My understanding is that the whole conscious process is part of a bigger process where you evaluate the decisions taken, available or review or inject new possibilities in the decision pool. This is where what you call decision is done, but it's more an orientation inside a bigger scheme than just the decisions themselves.

Re:10 seconds. (5, Insightful)

mysticgoat (582871) | about 6 years ago | (#23981715)

I don't agree with several aspects of parent post, but I do agree that TFA's introduction of "free will" into the discussion is a red herring.

The experiments show some very interesting things about the mind's mechanisms, in particular about the relationship of the self-aware, language-using part— call it "ego"— to the parts that do not have direct access to language and might not directly interact with the world. But author of TFA seems to be working with an outdated, simple model that places the ego at the top of the decision hierarchy. Which raises the question of free-will since with this model it appears that the top of the pyramid is being dictated to by mechanistic events happening in lower parts of the mind.

Bob Newhart had a show in the 1980s (Newhart [wikipedia.org] ) which introduced the comedic trio of Larry, and his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl. Larry was the only one who spoke or directly interacted with the other characters: Darryl and Darryl were always hanging back, witnessing the action but never participating (although the audience was able to see their reactions to events). But when a decision was called for, the three would go into a quick huddle and then Larry would state what the decision was. IIRC, at least once in the series he said something like "I like the idea, but my brother Daryl didn't like it so we won't do it."

There are good reasons to believe that our minds are organized the same way: that the part of the self we are conscious of is the spokesman for very close siblings who happen to share a single body, and our decisions are all group decisions. There is no restriction on the possibility of free will in this: whether the group is constrained in its choices cannot be determined (at least at this time). The spokesman is of course constrained by the group's decision, and that part may or may not understand all the factors that led to a given decision. But that doesn't negate the free will of the group.

This model supports the research findings, where instrumentation was able to deduce something about the non-verbal deciders seconds before the spokesman had finished polling his sibs. It also can explain the way someone astute in reading non-verbal cues can make very good guesses about what an individual will decide to do, sometimes before that person is himself aware of his decision.

Re:10 seconds. (2, Informative)

wytcld (179112) | about 6 years ago | (#23981961)

"This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

Big implausible supposition there: that decisions made without immediate reflective consciousness cannot possibly be free. The assumption is made that arguments and observations supporting the premise that we do have free will depend for their validity on all the aspects of agency being within the halo of consciousness - where consciousness is further defined as the capacity to report such self-awareness to an experimenter.

We can assume that our researcher here once took an intro to philosophy class where he was rewarded if he embraced the notion that Newtonian determinism leaves no place in the physical universe for freedom. His professor, being uneducated in physics, was untroubled by the immense degrees of freedom - perhaps even an essential role for consciousness - required by quantum physics.

If quantum physics points in the right direction, it might be freedom all the way down. There are even suggestions by serious and respect theorists that in some sense it is consciousness all the way down (although consciousness need not imply immediate reportability in all instances). So freedom need not be framed as some exception to the overwhelming Newtonian determinism of the material universe, provided only by rare miracles of consciousness (or spirit or whatever). Once it's framed in that way, of course we modern scientists don't believe in miracles. But if we believe quantum physics to be a much better theory than Newtonian, that's simply not the frame.

If that's not the frame, experiments showing practical limits on reportability of the experience of free agency indicate nothing at all about free will's plausibility.

Re:10 seconds. (2, Funny)

linzeal (197905) | about 6 years ago | (#23980685)

This is a study using the mechanical action of pressing buttons. If this was based on people and their wonderful wacky analytic thought processes I would be more impressed, yawn.

Re:10 seconds. (3, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 years ago | (#23980765)

It is clarified. Apparently you didn't read the article? :)

It is not an experiment that backs up the claims of the summary at all. Challenging conventional notions of choice? Not at all.....how often do you make a choice based on logic anyway? What flavor of ice cream to eat? It's what you feel like eating. What to do next after you get home from work? Whatever you feel like doing. Some decisions don't require any work from the logic point of the brain.

For example, the 'choice' made by the subjects of this experiment was whether they should push a right button or a left button. When confronted with such a choice, I would first sit there for a second wondering, "how the heck am I going to decide which one is best?" and then after finding nothing, give up and push whichever button I randomly felt like pushing. There IS no rational choice that can be made in such a situation. It's not a rational question.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the actual study is useless (even if the WSJ's analysis is). Seems they are using brain scanners to figure out more how the brain works, which is a good thing.

Re:10 seconds. (1, Funny)

ThePromenader (878501) | about 6 years ago | (#23980919)

The brain is an amazing piece of machinery; it's doubt that makes us 'over-think' and override decisions it instantly makes.

Take throwing a basketball into a hoop for example; there's the 'instinctive' way of going about it, that is to say leaving your brain/body rely on its past experiences/judgement to generate the right angle/force to get it to its target. Then there's the 'white boy' way of going about it: "now, if I have a ball that weighs x kilograms, and the hoop is x height above a lateral distance of x metres"... white boy fucks up most every time.

Re:10 seconds. (5, Insightful)

kripkenstein (913150) | about 6 years ago | (#23980901)

I'm not sure I can accept this...

You don't need to, because it isn't true. The research is (shock!) misrepresented.

In a particular type of task, they could predict with 70% accuracy which hand would be used 10 seconds ahead of time. That's the evidence for the summary.

What this shows is that, in this sort of task, some 'unconscious impulse' precedes the action. In this particular task the impulse predicted correctly 70% of the time (note that even that isn't amazingly high, since 50% you get by random choice). Now, this might be very different with other decisions. For example, the impulse might be right only 55% of the time in other areas, perhaps because the conscious brain overrides it ("I shouldn't eat that; I'll order a salad instead.").

That said, it's very nice research (when not misrepresented), and important. We're only starting to figure out how the brain works, we'll probably change our theories about it several times before we hit it right.

A final note: The article is a little populist in treating it as 'surprising' that the unconscious is so important. But this was well-known in academia for a long time. The basic finding is that we are conscious of the products of thought, not the processes. That is, when you play Doom, you don't directly see what makes you decide to use a particular weapon at a particular time. What you do directly sense is that this is a good thing to do, and you do it. Now, sometimes you can make explicit the underlying process - e.g., "I should go over there because it's safer, and a weapon should spawn nearby also" - but this elaboration was not fully present before. There are few cases in which thought processes are entirely explicit, logic and mathematics perhaps the best examples (and even they are not 'purely' conscious).

Re:10 seconds. (1)

Feynman (170746) | about 6 years ago | (#23981219)

The basic finding is that we are conscious of the products of thought, not the processes.

I agree completely. I was thinking about it like a computer and monitor. A computer will function without a monitor. You use the monitor to see what it's doing--and there's a delay between a result being computed and it showing up on the monitor.

Re:10 seconds. (3, Interesting)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#23980911)

I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation. It's not just a matter of reflex and ingrained response. Time slows down immediately and I can often sift through a large number of options and decision points. Is this really a threat? If so, what's the best response? Run? Strike? Duck?

The same goes for more routine and mundane decisions, the way you put it exactly. Unless I am some how looking into the future and getting data that isn't there ten seconds before it's available, it takes me a LOT less time than 10 seconds to make a decision after I have all the information needed for said decision.

Re:10 seconds. (5, Funny)

Jay L (74152) | about 6 years ago | (#23981631)

I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide

I, too, am manly and decisive, with lightning-fast reflexes.

Re:10 seconds. (1)

nomadic (141991) | about 6 years ago | (#23981667)

Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation.

Have you actually been involved in a threat situation so you know how you'd react? Training isn't the same as real life.

Re:10 seconds. (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | about 6 years ago | (#23981671)

But the study that you have put in (me too - both martial arts and sport) allows your conscious mind to delegate the action of blocking, punching, hitting the ball, whatever to a learned reflex - your mind spots a pattern of attack, or a backhand pass down the line - it matters not - it is all delegated to the learned behaviour, with only minor input from the senses.

I prefer to think of it thus: you are the sum of your experiences, and in a fight / tennis match, you draw on the sum of what you are, without needing the intervention of the conscious mind.

I never view a fight or a tennis match as a series of decisions - it's a state of mind that I find quite relaxing, and it's all down to practice.

Re:10 seconds. (1)

tgibbs (83782) | about 6 years ago | (#23981931)

I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation. It's not just a matter of reflex and ingrained response. Time slows down immediately and I can often sift through a large number of options and decision points. Is this really a threat? If so, what's the best response? Run? Strike? Duck?

I've done martial arts for over 30 years also, but my experience is different from what you describe. I don't "decide" much of anything. Most of the time I don't know what I'm going to do until after I've done it. I think that the reason time seems to "slow down" is that the slow conscious mind realizes that it doesn't have the processing speed to make decisions at this rate, and it gets out of the way, allowing much faster low-level decision-making processes to take control. I think the role of the conscious mind is more along the lines of programming low-level systems in advance, as opposed to making the actual decisions. And even there, the relationship between conscious thought and decision is tenuous. I can remember numerous occasions when I went into a match determined to try some particular technique, and it just didn't happen. The only conscious decisions I make during a fight are broad strategy like engage or retreat--and even then, my body doesn't always listen.

Re:10 seconds. (3, Funny)

eugene ts wong (231154) | about 6 years ago | (#23980985)

Fascinating. I have the exact opposite experience. I generally make a decision 10 days after receiving the final piece of information that I will use to make the decision. For example, the boss says, "Hey, Eugene. Here's a project for you. Get it done by the end of today.", and then 10 days later, I think to myself, "Hmm, maybe I should get started on that project...".

Re:10 seconds. (1)

asCii88 (1017788) | about 6 years ago | (#23981209)

Parent is right.
Well, the article doesn't tell much about the program they've used, but based on what it says I think what they visualised on the resonance was the subject's brain preparing the muscles' coordination.
Take this example. Imagine you are playing that game where you sit in front of somebody else, the hands of each close to each other's, and one has to hit the other while the other one has to avoid being hit. The former can choose to use any of his hands. So he thinks: "should I use this one, or that one, this one, or that one" and finally makes a choice, but the muscles are prepared to move both hands in the exact moment the choice is made. The last thing is obvious, try it yourselves, you'll feel it in your arms. It's like they want to move but you are holding them still.
Now, this can be ported to that simulation they used in this study, and it explains everything.

What do you think?

Re:10 seconds. (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | about 6 years ago | (#23981793)

Well, if you actually read the article they are pretty much just picking up impulses to move. They're taping into the brains random number generator as it's running and not surprisingly it's working while your thinking about being random. Even better is that they have a 70% chance of getting the hand correct in their guess. 50% is blind guessing, 100% is actually reading it. That means that have about 40% of actually detecting and a 30% chance of guessing right. Tell me when you can measure my answer to a math problem before I hit the buzzer to say I know the answer.

Re:10 seconds. (1)

mikael (484) | about 6 years ago | (#23981805)

Sounds like dual path execution for CPU's. The processor calculates both possible future states of the system, at the same time as the condition is being evaluated. Then the actual result selects the new state of the processor.

By the wording of the article you could say a CPU makes the decision before the result is known.

From the article:

Tuning in on the electrical dialogue between working neurons, they pinpointed the cells of what they called a "free choice" brain circuit that in milliseconds synchronized scattered synapses to settle on a course of action.

Re:10 seconds. (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 6 years ago | (#23981837)


I agree their simple result is not completely applicable. However, one way to look at things is that your mind has worked with the previous information to *partially* prepare the context and decision point, anticipating the last piece of information.

Particles in space (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980491)

I've been thinking about this too much lately.. seems that if the universe started out as a bunch of particles expanding, then we are nothing but a bunch of particles clumped together on a pre-determined path. At least that is my 10 seconds worth...

Re:Particles in space (0, Offtopic)

linzeal (197905) | about 6 years ago | (#23980763)

I prefer the 3 world theory [utah.edu] of Popper. Materialism [wikipedia.org] has been pretty much thoroughly discredited outside of some stubborn old timers who still are preaching it from their decade long tenures in Academia.

Not a threat to sentience... (4, Interesting)

Fustican (897132) | about 6 years ago | (#23980523)

The test the article discusses seems rather arbitrary -- letters streaming across a screen, and you decide when to press a button. Perhaps what they detected was the buildup of boredom? Analyzing complex inputs and reasoning to a decision is a far more complex thing. In any case, I'm not convinced that all my decisions are predetermined by fate or particle physics.

Re:Not a threat to sentience... (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about 6 years ago | (#23980847)

The test the article discusses seems rather arbitrary -- letters streaming across a screen, and you decide when to press a button. Perhaps what they detected was the buildup of boredom?

Well, the article also states that they could predict with some accuracy which button the subjects would press:

Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also predict which button the students would push.

Re:Not a threat to sentience... (5, Interesting)

Robert1 (513674) | about 6 years ago | (#23980863)

From personal experience this is a very likely to be the case. In college when I participated in random psych experiments, as required by the class, I would notice gaping errors in testing that completely tainted the results.

Example: I signed up for 1/2 hour experiment, I get there and the tell me it's an hour long and I will be analyzing erotic art with a female student. They emphasized that, which I thought was pretty unnecessary and odd, and there was no girl in the waiting room with me before the experiment. Anyway I put all this together and figured it was just a fake-out and that I wasn't going to be doing any actual analysis. Sure enough the researcher comes in and says "ok she will be coming in soon, rearrange the tables and chairs how you like." Uhuh, yeah this isn't contrived. Anyway I intentionally put the chairs right next to each other just to be contrary, because at this point it was beyond ridiculous to keep playing along. Anyway then they came in, took pictures of the chairs, and told me it was all a trick to see how I would position them - WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?!

Anyway, almost all the experiments I did had some kind of fatal flaw in it. I had another one - similar to what you're talking about - in which I was told to look at various numerical matrices which were then taken away and I was asked to answer 5 timed-questions about it. If I finished the question block a new matrix showed up, but the questions were complicated enough that I often could not even finish them before the timer ran out. This went on for ONE HOUR. After 10 minutes I was mentally exhausted and just putting in whatever for answers to get through all my blocks as fast as possible - I had totally stopped caring. At this point I also assumed that this must be the actual experiment - to gauge exhaustion. But no, when the researcher came in he thanked me and that's it - if it had been another experiment he would have had to tell me.

So unless we see the entire experimental procedure written down, it's impossible to determine if their findings were legitimately obtained. Unlike other disciplines, psych/neuro results are particular susceptible to improper experimental procedure. Like you say, they could have just detected boredom.

Choice? (3, Funny)

dfn5 (524972) | about 6 years ago | (#23980543)

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice

There is no choice/free will. Everything is deterministic. At least that's what I told the judge.

Re:Choice? (2, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 6 years ago | (#23980689)

I was the judge: I told him that I don't have free will either, and was predetermined to sentence him to 5-10. Underage donkey porn is just sick.

Re:Choice? (2, Funny)

lilomar (1072448) | about 6 years ago | (#23981263)

Thank you for thinking of the underage donkeys.

Re:Choice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981385)

There is no choice/free will. Everything is deterministic. At least that's what I told the judge.

Colliding billiard balls influence each other even though they don't have free will. A society that imposes a system of punishments for certain behaviors will influence the behavior of its members even if they don't have free will.

To use another analogy, a computer can navigate a car around obstacles by making predictions about the possible future positions of the car but the computer doesn't have what most people would consider to be free will (the computer does make choices, though). Think of the human brain as the computer and laws as obstacles to be navigated around. The laws influence behavior but not because of free will.

Re:Choice? (1)

tygt (792974) | about 6 years ago | (#23981827)

The devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh,oh It was the act of a man possessed, now The devil made me do it, oh, oh ,oh, oh Your honor, I am innocent!

A book along the same lines (2, Informative)

khing (936015) | about 6 years ago | (#23980551)

There is book by Malcolm Gladwell called "Blink [gladwell.com] " that explores something along the same lines, what the author called "the power of thinking without thinking". A quick skim of its wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] should give a good summary. It is a good read.

I need some time to think about this (1)

Galactic Dominator (944134) | about 6 years ago | (#23980553)

I chose not to RTFA.

I am the decider.

Not all decisions... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980573)

Not all decisions. There are *some* decisions that are made even 10s before you are even aware of them.

Possible examples would be *deciding* to wake up...

All women do this (5, Funny)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | about 6 years ago | (#23980589)

I've never met a sane woman who took more than 10 seconds to decide she'd NEVER sleep with me.

This is news?

Re:All women do this (2, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | about 6 years ago | (#23980793)

Yeah, but according to the study, this probably means that she decided it long before she told you.... This is why dating sucks. The guy is always the last one to know that the girl he likes is just screwing with his head, has no interest in him whatsoever, and is just using him to piss off her parents, get free home repairs, make her ex jealous, etc.

I'm assuming, of course, that you're a guy. If you're a girl, she probably decided whether she would or would not sleep with you way back in college.... :-D

Re:All women do this (2, Interesting)

ElectricRook (264648) | about 6 years ago | (#23981541)

...this probably means that she decided it long before she told you.... This is why dating sucks. The guy is always the last one to know that the girl he likes is just...

Perhaps the guy needs to learn to play the dating/socialization game. Mario does not get to work on the plumbing without sufficient chick points. Those points are easily won/lost by various action/inaction that are not clearly understood by a logically thinking Wandering Software Salesman.
To play the game well, one must watch the Pros. The body condition and face score you rolled are not really the great advantage a player would think they are Young Grasshopper. A pro does not lurk like a stalker, nor does he charge like a predator. To play well takes time and _much_ patience... You must always play this game, or never at all. Subscription services are newbie invitations to the playing fields, treat them as such. Activity clubs, or volunteer organizations can be much better. Electronics/Technology are usually point detriments in this game. That means throwing away the TV/computer games and play full time (except that watching/discussing a few Chick shows can be serious points). College is a great place to play, the work place is really poor on many levels. Always play as an observer, a predator never fits in with a herd. If you focus on your objective (sex), you will fail to achieve it. Move in and around the playing field and the players picking up points here and there. One the players will find you, and give you points. Any player who gives you too many points too soon can be dangerous (fatal attraction). Observe other players, and see if they sense the danger. Always collect points even from players outside your classification (age bracket or other classification), as low point tallies with multiple players can form a progressive points multiplier in addition to added experience.
Good luck, play safe, enjoy.

Re:All women do this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980811)

Thank god for crazy girls.

Re:All women do this (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 6 years ago | (#23981271)

Most of that ten seconds is spent evaluating the probable size of ... your wallet.

Lag!! (4, Funny)

NovaHorizon (1300173) | about 6 years ago | (#23980599)

Hah! I knew the gamers that complain about 500Ms lag were full of it!

They haven't even become aware of their decision to shoot within that space of time!

Re:Lag!! (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 years ago | (#23980777)

Excellent counter-example.

Re:Lag!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981217)

I don't know, a 16 year ping is a bit of a high latency and over that time you should have been able to reach a grand conclusion whether to press the mouse button or not.

Re:Lag!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981455)

500 Ms is a bit over 15 years. Did you have a "Slow Children" sign in front of your house?

I would have thought a better test would be: (3, Informative)

mykepredko (40154) | about 6 years ago | (#23980613)

Giving the subject a series of comparisions to make and determine the difference of when they make the decision and when they act on it.

Use the same apparatus, but ask the subjects to select which they would prefer at that moment in time:

Steak vs Salad
Blonde vs Brunette
Pepsi vs Coke
Car vs Bicycle
Mac vs PC
and so on...

You could go on and try to week out personal preferences with things that the subject has to evaluate:
Which would you like in your front hall: A Van Gough or a Gougain?
Which is funnier: A joke from Steve Martin or a joke from Robin Williams?
What smells better: Roses or Cinnamon?
With a given math problem, what is the better of two choices to solve it?

I would think this approach would be a better way to see how decisions are made within the human mind.

myke

Re:I would have thought a better test would be: (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | about 6 years ago | (#23980799)

KDE vs GNOME
VIM vs Emacs
*BSD vs Linux

;^) Come on. Let's not turn this into a flame war. :^)

Seriously, I think that these types of questions might be useful, but I think that they could also get a complex sampling. I don't know how to describe what I'm thinking here. When I read, "A Van Gough or a Gougain", I paused, because I wanted to go with Van Gough, but is that because I don't know who Gougain is? Shouldn't I try to sample his work, before deciding? If we do an experiment according to your suggestions, then hopefully the interpretation will take this type of thinking into account. Maybe I misunderstand you.

I'm mostly disappointed that they didn't test more people. I'd also like to know if the random letters were in the same order for everybody. Yes, :^) I read the article. :^)

Re:I would have thought a better test would be: (1)

owlstead (636356) | about 6 years ago | (#23980977)

"A Van Gough or a Gougain?"

Come again?

Re:I would have thought a better test would be: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981907)

He originally typed "Van Gogh" and "Gauguin", but that didn't look right.

In other words... (1)

jamesbarlow (169861) | about 6 years ago | (#23980641)

Don't use the 'Preview' button for replies on this topic.

Re:In other words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980709)

Don't use the 'Preview' button for replies on this topic.

Really?

Don't think before you post.

Duh (1)

pilsner.urquell (734632) | about 6 years ago | (#23980647)

Go with your gut feeling?

Choices from the past (1)

HalAtWork (926717) | about 6 years ago | (#23980679)

We may subconsciously arrive at a decision 10 seconds before we become conscious of the decision but that's only because we have to view the solution in our conscious mind and think of things such as: all the steps we have to do, the final outcome, perhaps ponder repercussions (harming others, any inconveniences, wether it conflicts with our other goals), we have to step through it in our mind to see if it is rational and makes sense considering our priorities as well before we actually take action. That's the part that takes 10 seconds. We probably stop to think 10 seconds about any possible solution our mind comes up with.

isn't it more likely... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980693)

That you have your "basic" decision in place in 10 seconds, but your conscious mind debates the merits of it for longer than that?

I think this can easily be shown by every day actions. When someone asks you if you want to go to lunch, your very first thought is:

  "yes. I am hungry", so according to this article, you already made your "decision" , but we all kow that right afte ryou have that thought there are always further thoughts that determine your final answer... do you have time? did you bring a lunch with you to work/school/etc. Are you spending too much money? Is it in your best interest to go to lunch with that person today? Do you have any meetings/classes/commitments you will have to deal with first or afterwards?

All of these factors contribute to your final answer. In the case of "lunch", you could probably still make that decision in 10 seconds pretty easily, but I think it is silly to claim that as aa blanket statement.

Just because your "cached" decision is easy to recall and put firth, doesn't mean you should always do it.

Of course, to play devils advocate to my own argument, is this not pretty much defining the "gut feeling"?

Deciding in advance? (1)

smolloy (1250188) | about 6 years ago | (#23980695)

TFA says that they let the subjects see a stream of letters pass the screen, and let them decide when to push with their left or right hand. Maybe all they've detected is the moment the candidates decided, "The next time I see the letter 'R', I'm gonna push the left button"?

I could imagine that the average time to see the letter of your choice would be ~10 s, give or take.

Re:Deciding in advance? (1)

jbengt (874751) | about 6 years ago | (#23981025)

No.
RTFA again.

Easy to refute (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980697)

What about driving a car?

Re:Easy to refute (1)

brxndxn (461473) | about 6 years ago | (#23981371)

In Florida, for most of the drivers here, any evasive action requires a minimum of 10 seconds.

headline does not describe the conclusions (4, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 6 years ago | (#23980717)

The article states that the testers (only!) tested 14 people. The subjects pressed a button whenever they felt like it. The testers could see some tell-tales up to 10 seconds before the button was pressed.

All this really tells us that when we think we're making a random action, we really commit to it some time beforehand. It only tells when people make a random decision - not what the choice is

bad reporting.

Re:headline does not describe the conclusions (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about 6 years ago | (#23980835)

It only tells when people make a random decision - not what the choice is

Not quite. From the article:

Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also predict which button the students would push.

Re:headline does not describe the conclusions (2, Insightful)

eugene ts wong (231154) | about 6 years ago | (#23980855)

In fact, it doesn't even tell us that. They were only able to predict the outcome 70%-80% of the time. There's a lot of misinterpretation here. Maybe a majority of us resort to some kind of random generator. Obviously, some people didn't go with their "first decision". That needs more study.

10 seconds is a long time. I wonder what happens during that time.

Re:headline does not describe the conclusions (1)

schmu_20mol (806069) | about 6 years ago | (#23981231)

While 14 people don't seem much, they actually are in comparison with the ususal minimum for these kind of studies. As a rule of thumb, you should have 6 or more participants in a study to get the paper accepted (as a technical issue to fulfill).
If there'd be more funds, maybe participants could actually be paid. As it stands now, you got to lure them in with the promise of free food.

Re:headline does not describe the conclusions (1)

ardle (523599) | about 6 years ago | (#23981669)

It ties in quite well with something else I heard about the decision-making process: justification/rationalisation is independent of decision-making.
I saw this on a BBC Horizon programme, "How To Make Better Decisions": test subjects were shown pairs of photographs and asked to select one. Once selected, both cards were turned face-down again for a moment. A sleight-of-hand trick then led to the subject being presented with the card they had rejected, whereupon the subject proceeded to explain why they selected a card they had actually rejected. Subjects do this without any realisation of the substitution.
This suggests to me that the brain makes what it thinks is the most likely selection. It's up to our minds to then catch up, if they need to or can be bothered.

Quick! (1)

SEWilco (27983) | about 6 years ago | (#23980755)

I typed this response in 8 seconds. Too bad Slashdot made me wait to send it, as I now know I decided not to do it.

Another view (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980807)

To everything we come in contact with we make an initial judgment. Being sentient, the first thing evaluated is good or bad. It's a reaction like touching a hot coal. We can always go back and revisit, elaborate and change our initial reaction, usually something that separates us from animals.

Snip FTA... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980833)

They monitored the swift neural currents coursing through the brains of student volunteers as they decided, at their own pace and at random, whether to push a button with their left or right hands.

But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of the researcher: are you the sort of man who would press the button on the left or on the right? Now, a clever man would press the button on the left, because he would know that only a great fool would press the button on the right. I am a great fool, so I can clearly not press the button on the right. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not press the button on the right.

Researcher: You've made your decision then?

Not remotely! Because these buttons come from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not press the button on the left.

Researcher: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

WAIT TILL I GET GOING! Where was I?

Researcher: Australia.

Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the buttons' origin, so I can clearly not press the button on the right.

Researcher: You're just stalling now.

You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?

Sure.. (4, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | about 6 years ago | (#23980877)

This explains hitting a 90mph fastball.

I know, the instantaneous response (Wait 10 seconds here please) is that you decided to play, go to the park, get suited up, report to the manager, select your bat, go to the batter's box, choose your stance, raise your bat to position, and then chose to swing it the pitch were where you expected or would accept it, etc etc etc.

Apparently this 10 second thing is for some decisions, those that require thought. Like whether to believe any of this 10 seond hooey.

Systems analysis. If you look far enough up the chain, it becomes one thing. Look too far down, and it gets all complicated and difficult, and can't be so easily understood. Makes you sleepy.

Another example of pseudo science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980943)

Again, an example of pseudo science and dito reporting. Toys for the boys: MRI brain scanners do not scan thoughts in brains, just some sort of activity. Then they "analyzed the results with an experimental pattern-recognition computer program.". So the computer black box proves.. Yes, What?

Training and Repetition (1)

yeagermiester (951371) | about 6 years ago | (#23980967)

This conclusion would be obvious to anyone that has been through Military training. Actions such as putting on a gas mask, finding cover, etc. are repeated so many times they become instinct. You don't have to think about these actions when the time comes to use them.

So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23980975)

Mu gut tells me that the researchers have proved kind of nothing... Likely the 10 seconds that proceeds the decision is a "startup time" - when the brain unconsciously prepares you for making a decision, it scans our memory, brings up useful background information that can be of benefit for the forthcoming decision making.

The test participants doesn't need to adjust/learn anything new from button-test to button-test - it's the same decision over and over... So probably, the similar background information (Brain scan patterns) tend to pop up over and over - the final decision is made using this information and is therefore predicable. It's just what we call "routine behavior".

My theory :)

Colbert was right! (1)

yeagermiester (951371) | about 6 years ago | (#23981033)

I guess Steven Colbert was right all along.

"The findings lend credence to researchers who argue that many important decisions may be best made by going with our gut -- not by thinking about them too much."

SG-1 Strikes Again (1)

oztiks (921504) | about 6 years ago | (#23981117)

... euroscientist Richard Anderson and his colleagues explored how the effort to plan a movement forces cells throughout the brain to work together, organizing a choice below the threshold of awareness ...

Another amazing discovery made by General O'Neill and his team.

The question on everyones mind is does this help us against the Ori?

Re:SG-1 Strikes Again (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 6 years ago | (#23981273)

The Ori are all dead.

Malcom Gladwell (1)

Nudo (1118587) | about 6 years ago | (#23981151)

Did no one read his book - Blink - Author of a best-selling book, The Tipping Point? They're both great books to read, it talks about some decisions are best made quickly, and how our consciousness sometimes decides for us, before we even start to narrow down our decisions.

"blink" and "think" (1)

e**(i pi)-1 (462311) | about 6 years ago | (#23981243)

The point for "blink of an eye" decisions is made by Malcom Gladwells book "Blink": "The Power of Thinking without Thinking". A worthy rebuttal is Michale LeGaults book "Th!ink", "why crucial decisions can't be made in the blink of an eye". I found both worth reading and both have a point. It depends on the decision to be made.

Edie Brickell and the new Bohemians ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981245)

"Drown me in the shallow waters before I get too deep..."

Ok, ok, I'll turn my computer off now.

The difference between an "urge" and a decision. (1)

evolutionarymovement (1316057) | about 6 years ago | (#23981333)

"Whenever they felt the urge, they pressed a button with their right hand or a button with their left hand"
This research has nothing to do with your ability to choose. For this study, participants are told to suspend their choice, and just follow their urge.
This study merely indicates that you can predict what urges a person may experience, but I don't doubt that any individual could decide to go against their urge. And isn't that what makes us fundamentally human?
While I find this study flawed for being so quick to try and deconstruct support for free will, I find that it actually helps identify the characteristics of free will, and more significantly, that elusive human element.
/opinion. .Sean

Scientific arrogance and lack of real data (3, Insightful)

oztiks (921504) | about 6 years ago | (#23981359)

"But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

Why do some scientists simply insist that because they can prove one particular aspect that everything else surrounding the issue must domino into the same conclusion?

Saying "free will" doesn't exist based upon their studies is a kin to saying the earth is flat simply because we stand on it upright, lets not take into account any other factors which could remain simply because its presently out of our current ability to grasp and therefore couldn't possibly exist.

The word "implausible" is badly construed here maybe "cannot be determined" is more appropriate?

IMHO This has and always will be sciences one and only real undoing at answering life's real questions. Whats wrong with leaving the door open sometimes?

Wall Street Journal Says "Don't Think, Just Buy" (-1, Flamebait)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 6 years ago | (#23981433)

The Wall Street Journal has a vested interest in telling readers not to think too much. It only takes about 10 seconds to read one of their "News in Brief" capsules, after which the WSJ wants its readers to just do whatever that slanted report implies. Since those readers run the economy, that means that the WSJ can get lots of money spent the way that its directors and their corporate cronies want.

Chief among those corporate cronies is Rupert Murdoch, who bought the Wall Street Journal (along with its parent, the Dow Jones market data service) to match his Fox News Channel. If you want the strongest example of "not overthinking" (or thinking at all), just watch yourself some Fox "News" sometime.

Cowboy the Overthinker (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 6 years ago | (#23981449)

Yeah, don't overthink and do stuff like this "study". On the other hand, the summary tells nothing about "overthinking". Some kinda subliminal hint not to think at all. Is my guess. Or am I overthinking?

Conventional notion of choice... (1)

mario_grgic (515333) | about 6 years ago | (#23981593)

how does this challenge the notion of choice? It's not like your brain is not you.

All this is saying is that we are not conscious of our thought processes, which we also knew and felt for a long time. The thought "computes" in the lower levels and synthesized idea bubbles up to the higher levels where we can verbalize it.

Comic shows the value of not Overthinking (1)

Mr. Picklesworth (931427) | about 6 years ago | (#23981707)

I think XKCD did nicely with this topic:

http://xkcd.com/439/ [xkcd.com]

Not this again (3, Interesting)

Dun Malg (230075) | about 6 years ago | (#23981817)

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice

I am seriously sick and tired of this notion coming up every time some study or other points out that your "conscious brain" fires up some amount of time after some other part of the brain has already started taking the action. THis shows a complete and utter failure to understand how our brains work. The conscious mind is in control, it's just not consciously "working the levers" every freakin' second. How would you find time to think about anything of consequence if you had to constantly coordinate everything your body does? "OK, now I'm breathing, now I'm moving my eyes to follow the sentence I'm reading, now I'm moving my hand to adjust the lighting on the book...."--- you'd never have the clock cycles to comprehend the material. No, the brain uses a sort of distributed computing. Your conscious mind instructs the autonomous slave sub-parts how to react to certain stimuli, and expects them to do the dirty work while it thinks of more important things (usually sex). That one study that externally manipulated people's brains to make them choose a certain card, then asked them why they chose it, and people always came up with some justification? It's not a lack of free will there, it's just that the conscious mind is accustomed to its "slaves" only doing things it has previously trained them to do. Of course your conscious analytical mind is going to justify the action somehow.
An example: If you decide that the next time you see Joe, you're going to punch him, a scientist monitoring your brain the next time you see Joe will find that your "punching brain" acted before your "conscious brain" did. Does that indicate a lack of free will? You'd have to be an idiot to think so. All it indicates is that your "conscious brain" has a number of programmable sub-units at its disposal.

Re:Not this again (1)

tgibbs (83782) | about 6 years ago | (#23982001)

Of course your conscious analytical mind is going to justify the action somehow.
An example: If you decide that the next time you see Joe, you're going to punch him, a scientist monitoring your brain the next time you see Joe will find that your "punching brain" acted before your "conscious brain" did. Does that indicate a lack of free will? You'd have to be an idiot to think so. All it indicates is that your "conscious brain" has a number of programmable sub-units at its disposal.

I also think that our conscious mind has limited access to the internal operations of those low-level decision-making processes, so what we perceive as our motivation for a decision is more along the lines of an educated guess: "Well, Joe said something nasty about my sister yesterday, and I've been stewing about it ever since. Yeah! That's it, I decided to hit him because I'm still mad about what he said yesterday!"

Why is this surprising? (1)

tgibbs (83782) | about 6 years ago | (#23981917)

It seems reasonable to me that conscious awareness is not a trivial phenomenon, and that it involves a significant amount of computing, with a large number of synaptic delays. If it was not possible to detect neural indicators of a decision well prior to conscious awareness of the decision, it would argue that there really isn't much to consciousness after all.

I always have to think explicitly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23981933)

I don't really have any subconscious ability beyond, I think, motor skills and speaking English. I always have to meticulously plan through what I'm going to do, and must be explicit to myself on how I store and process information. This might have something to do with a nasty head injury, fwiw.

I can't really act on impulse, I can't act on instinct, I don't find anything obvious. I never have flashes of inspiration. I know exactly why I'm about to make every decision. I can't do things like drive because it would require way too many subconscious thoughts.

All around me I find people do things without thinking, because they were driven to that action somehow, and it makes the world alien to me. I reflect on all my acts, and the events leading up to everything I learn about - natural or human. If I didn't, I'd be a void, as I can't retain information unless I've formed a strategy that makes explicit associations.

I went from being an up-and-coming mathematician to a failed mathematician. I can still do routine work - following an imaginary trail to apply any of thousands of clearly linked rules, whether they're in my head or (increasingly, alas) on paper - but I have am too retarded by my need to be explicit to come up with anything new in a reasonable time.

This doesn't mean I don't understand things, either. It's just that my brain does nothing interesting with the information I take in unless I force it to. I'm not Poincare going on a little excursion, steeping off a bus, and finding from nowhere that Fuschian functions match up with the transformations of non-Euclidean geometry.

The most important and humbling lesson I learnt from all of this, as someone who's been far above average and now below average, is that people are not created equal. There are those whose brain always appears to act like mine does now - or only has a *magic subconscious* for very routine affairs. In this light, a meritocracy is no more moral than an aristocracy: one's about the trust fund you're handed from your parents, the other about the genes and the very early learning from your parents. Both are out of your control.

In better days I amassed enough wealth that I'll always be ok, but some people never experience one of those days. So love the good genius and love the good idiot.

Sorry that veered OT. The research appears completely inconclusive anyhow: 14 students, with 50% correct prediction rate being as good as a toss of a coin, could e.g. mean that 2 of these 14 students are making a decision early. I've been involved in medical trials for my condition, and we've discussed the danger of ignoring intersubject differences by giving a summary stats that lump all subjects together.

OK have a nice weekend everyone.

Bull (1)

dosboot (973832) | about 6 years ago | (#23981957)

With all do respect, the people claiming this undermines the notion of choice are stupid. It is still your brain making rational decisions. At best this undermines the assumed notion that consciousness is the source of rational choice and is not an echoing chamber of the subconscious.

However, I would not even concede that much at this point. The fact that these findings are always so closely tied to undermining rational choice makes me suspect of the research in the first place.

Study shows ... (1)

$0.02 (618911) | about 6 years ago | (#23981971)

that researchers have overthought the results of the experiment.
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