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'Shortcuts' of the mind lead to miscalculations of weight and caloric intake, says Penn study
Date:6/15/2009

estimated body weight based on the model's shape even though height information was provided in the photographs or directly available with live models. Meanwhile, participants devalued or completely ignored other parameters critical to an accurate judgment.

Penn psychologists point to the study as a novel example of the negative artifacts packaged within the evolved way the human brain processes information. The mind has evolved to develop a capacity to free up our conscious thinking for dangerous and reproductive situations. For example, a driver at a green light doesn't need to cycle through a series of decisions. Green simply means go. The brain has evolved to remove common or repetitive situations or tasks from our awareness because the capacity of our consciousness is quite limited.

What ties these studies together is that missing information was literally thrust in the face of participants, and yet they didn't use it.

"We have heuristics in our brain simple mechanistic shortcuts that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, which free up precious space in our consciousness," said Andrew Geier, lead author in the Department of Psychology in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences. "In these atypical instances, however, it's the shortcut that hurts us."

The researchers believe that the negative artifacts of the evolved mind may be directly connected with America's obesity epidemic.

"We have evolved in a very different environment," Geier said. "It used to be that food was scarce, and you ate what was available because you didn't know where your next meal would come from. That is not the case anymore. Although we have yet to prove this, we believe that the ecology of eating in the current food environment has become an example of the atypical situations demonstrated in this new article, which may be an explanation for why almost 70 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. This represents a cognit
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Contact: Jordan Reese
jreese@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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