One of the shortcuts our brains take when we try to decide in any situation is to automatically weed out all options that might have negative consequences, the operative word here being might. Scientists say that this approach could make us miss out on greater rewards than we can imagine.
At the same time, this pruning process may provide one of the foundations on which depression eventually develops in the human brain, researchers from University College London (UCL) explain.
Primarily, this mental flaw occurs when we are faced with complicated decision, or ones that require a lot of planning. For this research, the team gave the example of planning a trip to another country.
Some people prefer to place limitations on their own choices, for instance travel to a destination that is less than 5 or 6 hours away by plane. This is a personal preference that could make those individuals more likely to miss out on a lot of fun.
“This strategy simplifies the planning process and guarantees that you won’t have to endure an uncomfortable long-haul flight. However, it also means that you might miss out on an amazing trip to an exotic destination,” scientist Quentin Huys explains.
The expert, who was the lead author of a new paper detailing the findings, holds an appointment as an investigator at the UCL Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit. He explains that the so-called pruning decision-making bias may turn out to have negative implications after all.
The thing to keep in mind here is that this process occurs automatically inside the brain. Therefore, people need to pay special attention in order to catch it in the act. However, doing so is very important because making certain complex decisions requires people to go through a cascade of processes.
This implies that each step in the process relies on another that came before it. If the bias interferes in one of these steps, then the conclusion we arrive at may be flawed. We should therefore remain vigilant of this filtering process, questioning it every time we identify it.
In a series of experiments conducted at UCL, researchers asked 46 test subjects to make a series of decisions when navigating a maze. At each turn, the participants won or lost money, according to an algorithm. Scientists noticed that participants automatically avoided paths that lost them money.
At the same time, those paths promised the greatest rewards, if navigated correctly. The UCL group believes that this bias could be making its effects felt in our daily lives as well, PsychCentral