Why We Make Mistakes

BY RACHEL VOWCICEFSKI

SCIENCE EDITOR

 

Researchers have discovered that humans make mistakes not because of miscalculations made by the brain itself, but because of the intake of flawed information. This recent finding now makes clear the answer to the long debate between neuroscientists about whether poor decisions result from noisy external information or from the brains ability to put information together.

Researchers at Princeton University have now established that the brain processes information correctly, but only when it is received in the correct way. If the brain receives information in conjunction with “noise,” or errors, it has difficulty processing the information and results in mistakes.

The study separated sensory inputs from internal mental processes, eliminating the possibility of mistaking the brain’s function for that of faulty information. Prior to this study, the brain’s function was considered to be inherently noisy, however, the study proved the exact opposite.  It was shown that the only error occurred when the external information was noisy and that the brain functioned without error when the information was devoid of noise.

Princeton researchers tested four human volunteers and 19 trained laboratory rats. The scientists played a series of clicks into each subject’s ear and had the subjects indicate which side the clicks came from. The rats were trained to point their noses in the direction of the noise, and were said to perform as well as the human subjects.

Researchers found that the only time an error occurred was when two clicks overlapped on both sides, producing an error in perception in both type of subjects. Otherwise the subjects’ brains had no difficulty distinguishing the difference in clicks, indicating that error does not occur internally but only when external information is received in a noisy environement.

This study does not fully encompass all aspects of decision-making, but it is the first of many that will begin to bring to light the reason for our mistakes.

So the next time you make a poor decision, do not blame your brain, blame the faulty information you are received.

 

Email Rachel at:

rmv4520@live.esu.edu

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