Concept: Decision making
The Mars mission will result in an inevitable exposure to cosmic radiation that has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in rodent models, and possibly in astronauts engaged in deep space travel. Of particular concern is the potential for cosmic radiation exposure to compromise critical decision making during normal operations or under emergency conditions in deep space. Rodents exposed to cosmic radiation exhibit persistent hippocampal and cortical based performance decrements using six independent behavioral tasks administered between separate cohorts 12 and 24 weeks after irradiation. Radiation-induced impairments in spatial, episodic and recognition memory were temporally coincident with deficits in executive function and reduced rates of fear extinction and elevated anxiety. Irradiation caused significant reductions in dendritic complexity, spine density and altered spine morphology along medial prefrontal cortical neurons known to mediate neurotransmission interrogated by our behavioral tasks. Cosmic radiation also disrupted synaptic integrity and increased neuroinflammation that persisted more than 6 months after exposure. Behavioral deficits for individual animals correlated significantly with reduced spine density and increased synaptic puncta, providing quantitative measures of risk for developing cognitive impairment. Our data provide additional evidence that deep space travel poses a real and unique threat to the integrity of neural circuits in the brain.
Socioeconomically vulnerable people are likely to have more health risks because of inadequate behaviour choices related to chronic social stresses. Brain science suggests that stress causes cognitively biased automatic decision making, preferring instant stress relief and pleasure (eg, smoking, alcohol use and drug abuse) as opposed to reflectively seeking health-maintenance services (eg, health check-ups). As such, hedonic stimuli that nudge people towards preventive actions could reduce health behaviour disparities. The purpose of this intervention study was to test this hypothesis.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 5 years ago
Eye gaze is a window onto cognitive processing in tasks such as spatial memory, linguistic processing, and decision making. We present evidence that information derived from eye gaze can be used to change the course of individuals' decisions, even when they are reasoning about high-level, moral issues. Previous studies have shown that when an experimenter actively controls what an individual sees the experimenter can affect simple decisions with alternatives of almost equal valence. Here we show that if an experimenter passively knows when individuals move their eyes the experimenter can change complex moral decisions. This causal effect is achieved by simply adjusting the timing of the decisions. We monitored participants' eye movements during a two-alternative forced-choice task with moral questions. One option was randomly predetermined as a target. At the moment participants had fixated the target option for a set amount of time we terminated their deliberation and prompted them to choose between the two alternatives. Although participants were unaware of this gaze-contingent manipulation, their choices were systematically biased toward the target option. We conclude that even abstract moral cognition is partly constituted by interactions with the immediate environment and is likely supported by gaze-dependent decision processes. By tracking the interplay between individuals, their sensorimotor systems, and the environment, we can influence the outcome of a decision without directly manipulating the content of the information available to them.
- Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society
- Published over 4 years ago
Several recent studies hint at shared patterns in decision-making between taxonomically distant organisms, yet few studies demonstrate and dissect mechanisms of decision-making in simpler organisms. We examine decision-making in the unicellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum using a classical decision problem adapted from human and animal decision-making studies: the two-armed bandit problem. This problem has previously only been used to study organisms with brains, yet here we demonstrate that a brainless unicellular organism compares the relative qualities of multiple options, integrates over repeated samplings to perform well in random environments, and combines information on reward frequency and magnitude in order to make correct and adaptive decisions. We extend our inquiry by using Bayesian model selection to determine the most likely algorithm used by the cell when making decisions. We deduce that this algorithm centres around a tendency to exploit environments in proportion to their reward experienced through past sampling. The algorithm is intermediate in computational complexity between simple, reactionary heuristics and calculation-intensive optimal performance algorithms, yet it has very good relative performance. Our study provides insight into ancestral mechanisms of decision-making and suggests that fundamental principles of decision-making, information processing and even cognition are shared among diverse biological systems.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published over 8 years ago
Collaboration can provide benefits to the individual and the group across a variety of contexts. Even in simple perceptual tasks, the aggregation of individuals' personal information can enable enhanced group decision-making. However, in certain circumstances such collaboration can worsen performance, or even expose an individual to exploitation in economic tasks, and therefore a balance needs to be struck between a collaborative and a more egocentric disposition. Neurohumoral agents such as oxytocin are known to promote collaborative behaviours in economic tasks, but whether there are opponent agents, and whether these might even affect information aggregation without an economic component, is unknown. Here, we show that an androgen hormone, testosterone, acts as such an agent. Testosterone causally disrupted collaborative decision-making in a perceptual decision task, markedly reducing performance benefit individuals accrued from collaboration while leaving individual decision-making ability unaffected. This effect emerged because testosterone engendered more egocentric choices, manifest in an overweighting of one’s own relative to others' judgements during joint decision-making. Our findings show that the biological control of social behaviour is dynamically regulated not only by modulators promoting, but also by those diminishing a propensity to collaborate.
Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS) represents a unique gaming space in which the predictions of human rational decision-making can be compared with actual performance. Playing a computerized opponent adopting a mixed-strategy equilibrium, participants revealed a non-significant tendency to over-select Rock. Further violations of rational decision-making were observed using an inter-trial analysis where participants were more likely to switch their item selection at trial n + 1 following a loss or draw at trial n, revealing the strategic vulnerability of individuals following the experience of negative rather than positive outcome. Unique switch strategies related to each of these trial n outcomes were also identified: after losing participants were more likely to ‘downgrade’ their item (e.g., Rock followed by Scissors) but after drawing participants were more likely to ‘upgrade’ their item (e.g., Rock followed by Paper). Further repetition analysis revealed that participants were more likely to continue their specific cyclic item change strategy into trial n + 2. The data reveal the strategic vulnerability of individuals following the experience of negative rather than positive outcome, the tensions between behavioural and cognitive influences on decision making, and underline the dangers of increased behavioural predictability in other recursive, non-cooperative environments such as economics and politics.
Humans are tremendously sensitive to unfairness. Unfairness provokes strong negative emotional reactions and influences our subsequent decision making. These decisions might not only have consequences for ourselves and the person who treated us unfairly but can even transmit to innocent third persons - a phenomenon that has been referred to as generalized negative reciprocity. In this study we aimed to investigate whether regulation of emotions can interrupt this chain of unfairness. Real allocations in a dictator game were used to create unfair situations. Three different regulation strategies, namely writing a message to the dictator who made an unfair offer, either forwarded or not forwarded, describing a neutral picture and a control condition in which subjects just had to wait for three minutes, were then tested on their ability to influence the elicited emotions. Subsequently participants were asked to allocate money between themselves and a third person. We show that writing a message which is forwarded to the unfair actor is an effective emotion regulation strategy and that those participants who regulated their emotions successfully by writing a message made higher allocations to a third person. Thus, using message writing as an emotion regulation strategy can interrupt the chain of unfairness.
Through theoretical analysis, we show how a superorganism may react to stimulus variations according to psychophysical laws observed in humans and other animals. We investigate an empirically-motivated honeybee house-hunting model, which describes a value-sensitive decision process over potential nest-sites, at the level of the colony. In this study, we show how colony decision time increases with the number of available nests, in agreement with the Hick-Hyman law of psychophysics, and decreases with mean nest quality, in agreement with Piéron’s law. We also show that colony error rate depends on mean nest quality, and difference in quality, in agreement with Weber’s law. Psychophysical laws, particularly Weber’s law, have been found in diverse species, including unicellular organisms. Our theoretical results predict that superorganisms may also exhibit such behaviour, suggesting that these laws arise from fundamental mechanisms of information processing and decision-making. Finally, we propose a combined psychophysical law which unifies Hick-Hyman’s law and Piéron’s law, traditionally studied independently; this unified law makes predictions that can be empirically tested.
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) reportedly increases the risk of cognitive decline in women over age 65 y. It is unknown whether similar risks exist for recently postmenopausal women, and whether MHT affects mood in younger women. The ancillary Cognitive and Affective Study (KEEPS-Cog) of the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study (KEEPS) examined the effects of up to 4 y of MHT on cognition and mood in recently postmenopausal women.
Cognitive enhancement (CE) is the pharmaceutical augmentation of mental abilities (e.g., learning or memory) without medical necessity. This topic has recently attracted widespread attention in scientific and social circles. However, knowledge regarding the mechanisms that underlie the decision to use CE medication is limited. To analyze these decisions, we used data from two online surveys of randomly sampled university teachers (N = 1,406) and students (N = 3,486). Each respondent evaluated one randomly selected vignette with regard to a hypothetical CE drug. We experimentally varied the characteristics of the drugs among vignettes and distributed them among respondents. In addition, the respondent’s internalization of social norms with respect to CE drug use was measured. Our results revealed that students were more willing to enhance cognitive performance via drugs than university teachers, although the overall willingness was low. The probability of side effects and their strength reduced the willingness to use CE drugs among students and university teachers, whereas higher likelihoods and magnitudes of CE increased this propensity. In addition, the internalized norm against CE drug use influenced decision making: Higher internalization decreased the willingness to use such medications. Students' internalized norms more strongly affected CE abstinence compared with those of university teachers. Furthermore, internalized norms negatively interacted with the instrumental incentives for taking CE medication. This internalization limited the influence of and deliberation on instrumental incentives. This study is the first to provide empirical evidence regarding the importance of social norms and their influence on rational decision making with regard to CE. We identified previously undiscovered decision-making patterns concerning CE. Thus, this study provides insight into the motivators and inhibitors of CE drug use. These findings have implications for contending with CE behavior by highlighting the magnitude of potential side effects and by informing the debate regarding the ethics of CE use.