Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Decision theory


Interoception is the sensing of physiological signals originating inside the body, such as hunger, pain and heart rate. People with greater sensitivity to interoceptive signals, as measured by, for example, tests of heart beat detection, perform better in laboratory studies of risky decision-making. However, there has been little field work to determine if interoceptive sensitivity contributes to success in real-world, high-stakes risk taking. Here, we report on a study in which we quantified heartbeat detection skills in a group of financial traders working on a London trading floor. We found that traders are better able to perceive their own heartbeats than matched controls from the non-trading population. Moreover, the interoceptive ability of traders predicted their relative profitability, and strikingly, how long they survived in the financial markets. Our results suggest that signals from the body - the gut feelings of financial lore - contribute to success in the markets.

Concepts: Risk, Economics, Decision theory, Sense, Heart rate, Investment, Stock market, Finance


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Decision making, Risk, Cognition, Decision theory, Decision making software, Addiction, Choice architecture


Tens of millions of people are currently choosing health coverage on a state or federal health insurance exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We examine how well people make these choices, how well they think they do, and what can be done to improve these choices. We conducted 6 experiments asking people to choose the most cost-effective policy using websites modeled on current exchanges. Our results suggest there is significant room for improvement. Without interventions, respondents perform at near chance levels and show a significant bias, overweighting out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles. Financial incentives do not improve performance, and decision-makers do not realize that they are performing poorly. However, performance can be improved quite markedly by providing calculation aids, and by choosing a “smart” default. Implementing these psychologically based principles could save purchasers of policies and taxpayers approximately 10 billion dollars every year.

Concepts: Health insurance, Improve, Decision theory, Thought, Performance, Choice, Finance, Choice architecture


Evidence-based policy ensures that the best interventions are effectively implemented. Integrating rigorous, relevant science into policy is therefore essential. Barriers include the evidence not being there; lack of demand by policymakers; academics not producing rigorous, relevant papers within the timeframe of the policy cycle. This piece addresses the last problem. Academics underestimate the speed of the policy process, and publish excellent papers after a policy decision rather than good ones before it. To be useful in policy, papers must be at least as rigorous about reporting their methods as for other academic uses. Papers which are as simple as possible (but no simpler) are most likely to be taken up in policy. Most policy questions have many scientific questions, from different disciplines, within them. The accurate synthesis of existing information is the most important single offering by academics to the policy process. Since policymakers are making economic decisions, economic analysis is central, as are the qualitative social sciences. Models should, wherever possible, allow policymakers to vary assumptions. Objective, rigorous, original studies from multiple disciplines relevant to a policy question need to be synthesized before being incorporated into policy.

Concepts: Economics, Science, Decision theory, Policy, Implementation, Social sciences, Political science, Scholarly method


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Decision making, Decision theory, Androgen, Human behavior, Collaboration


We aimed to derive and validate a clinical decision rule (CDR) for suspected cardiac chest pain in the emergency department (ED). Incorporating information available at the time of first presentation, this CDR would effectively risk-stratify patients and immediately identify: (A) patients for whom hospitalisation may be safely avoided; and (B) high-risk patients, facilitating judicious use of resources.

Concepts: Myocardial infarction, Hospital, Heart, Validation, Avicenna, Decision theory, Acute coronary syndrome, Chest pain


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.

Concepts: Scientific method, Decision making, Organism, Species, Futurology, Cognition, Decision theory, Bird nest


Atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia in heart failure and a risk factor for stroke. Risk assessment tools can assist clinicians with decision making in the allocation of thromboprophylaxis. This review provides an overview of current validated risk assessment tools for atrial fibrillation and emphasizes the importance of tailoring individual risk and the importance of weighing the benefits of treatment. Further, this review provides details of innovative and patient-centered methods for ensuring optimal adherence to prescribed therapy. Prior to initiating oral anticoagulant therapy, a comprehensive risk assessment should include evaluation of associated cardiogeriatric conditions, potential for adherence to prescribed therapy, frailty, and functional and cognitive ability.

Concepts: Decision making, Evaluation, Heart, Risk, Atrial fibrillation, Cognition, Decision theory, Anticoagulant


Humans and animals face decision tasks in an uncertain multi-agent environment where an agent’s strategy may change in time due to the co-adaptation of others strategies. The neuronal substrate and the computational algorithms underlying such adaptive decision making, however, is largely unknown. We propose a population coding model of spiking neurons with a policy gradient procedure that successfully acquires optimal strategies for classical game-theoretical tasks. The suggested population reinforcement learning reproduces data from human behavioral experiments for the blackjack and the inspector game. It performs optimally according to a pure (deterministic) and mixed (stochastic) Nash equilibrium, respectively. In contrast, temporal-difference(TD)-learning, covariance-learning, and basic reinforcement learning fail to perform optimally for the stochastic strategy. Spike-based population reinforcement learning, shown to follow the stochastic reward gradient, is therefore a viable candidate to explain automated decision learning of a Nash equilibrium in two-player games.

Concepts: Game theory, Risk, Decision theory, Prisoner's dilemma, Nash equilibrium, Equilibrium, Matching pennies, Trembling hand perfect equilibrium


Rational decision making on malaria control depends on an understanding of the epidemiological risks and control measures. National Malaria Control Programmes across Africa have access to a range of state-of-the-art malaria risk mapping products that might serve their decision-making needs. The use of cartography in planning malaria control has never been methodically reviewed.

Concepts: Decision making, Malaria, Risk, Cognition, Decision theory, Map, Rational choice theory, Flipism