NEW YORK, NY (March 7, 2014) Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers have found that decision-making accuracy can be improved by postponing the onset of a decision by a mere fraction of a second. The results could further our understanding of neuropsychiatric conditions characterized by abnormalities in cognitive function and lead to new training strategies to improve decision-making in high-stake environments. The study was published in the March 5 online issue of the journal PLoS One.
"Decision making isn't always easy, and sometimes we make errors on seemingly trivial tasks, especially if multiple sources of information compete for our attention," said first author Tobias Teichert, PhD, a postdoctoral research scientist in neuroscience at CUMC at the time of the study and now an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. "We have identified a novel mechanism that is surprisingly effective at improving response accuracy.
The mechanism requires that decision-makers do nothingjust briefly. "Postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out irrelevant distractors," said last author Jack Grinband, PhD, associate research scientist in the Taub Institute and assistant professor of clinical radiology (physics). "This way, rather than working longer or harder at making the decision, the brain simply postpones the decision onset to a more beneficial point in time."
In making decisions, the brain integrates many small pieces of potentially contradictory sensory information. "Imagine that you're coming up to a traffic lightthe targetand need to decide whether the light is red or green," said Dr. Teichert. "There is typically little ambiguity, and you make the correct decision quickly, in a matter of tens of milliseconds."
The decision process itself, however, does not
|Contact: Karin Eskenazi|
Columbia University Medical Center