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[2020/12/10] NYMU Unveils the Brain Nervous System Mechanism Behind the Nobel Prize-Winning Concept Outlined in the Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”: Specifically the Brain Information Scale System

Associate Professor Wu of National Yang-Ming University Institute of Neuroscience focuses on the brain nervous system mechanism behind decision making

 

We may think that by relying on intuitive judgments and decisions, we will most likely be correct. However, intuitive actions can often be the source of misjudgments. The concept behind this theory was discovered by the Nobel Economy Prize Laureate, Daniel Kahnerman. However, the mechanism that lies behind this concept has remained unknown until a team at National Yang- Ming University Institute of Neuroscience discovered its key neuro-mechanism.

 

Kahnerman mentioned in his best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that intuitive shortcut thinking (heuristics) is the basis of many human decisions and probability estimates, and involves the brain’s fast thinking system. However, intuitive shortcut thinking has been proposed as the explanation for common mistakes that humans make when judging the probability of an event. Among such common mistakes, base rate neglect is one of the most important when it is used to judge the probability. Base rate neglect pays too much attention to currently available information and ignores the base rate of an event. For example, in this year’s U.S. presidential election, the majority of polls and models predicted that Biden had an overwhelming advantage and would easily win the election. However, the actual voting results showed that, both in terms of the electoral college votes and the total votes, the difference in number of votes for Biden and Trump were not as significant as expected. The result of this unexpected outcome is primarily due to the fact that most people do not take into account the basic fact that the approval ratings of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are not very different.

 

Associate Professor Wu of National Yang-Ming University Institute of Neuroscience said that we can think of the situation where the base rate is ignored as part of the information weighing system in our brain. This system's job is not to measure the weight of the matter in hand, but rather to receive and weigh the information we use in our daily lives. Base rate neglect changes the result for a given decision because the brain places too little emphasis on the base rate for a phenomenon and pays too much attention to the subject's current experience. He said the Kahnerman won the Nobel Prize for his research on “Base Rate Neglect”, but our understanding of the mechanisms behind the brain's information scale system has remained limited.

 

     

  Location map of the brain information scale system (left). Research Student Yang who is currently studying for her PhD at Rutgers University (right).

 

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in July this year (https://www.pnas.org/content/117/29/16908.short), Associate Professor Wu and his Research Student Yang, whom is currently studying for a doctorate at Rutgers University in the United States, collected 28 subjects who then participate in a decision-making experiment. Using the decision-making experiment in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging and Bayesian mathematical modeling, they found that the human brain’s medial prefrontal lobe, orbitofrontal cortex and putamen, as well as a number of other brain regions, form an “information scale” system. This weighing system reflects the relative information weight of the base rate for a choice and the current information available on a choice to the human subjects. Specifically, the brain area that determines the degree of information variability is located in the medial superior frontal cortex.

 

Associate Professor Wu said that the activity level of the information scale system reflects the degree to which people ignore the base rate. He also indicated that the most interesting finding of the experiment was that a stable base rate creates a stronger tendency to neglect the base rate. People in a stable environment tend to overreact to current information and underestimate the weight of the base rate. These deviations are closely related to the communication mode used by the brain’s information scale system and the information variability system.

 

This research has lifted the veil on important aspects of the human brain and its nervous system while at the same time providing a foundation for future research into behavioral economics and various linked areas of neuroscience. In addition, it also proves that social science and medical research are able to interact in a complementary manner to provide novel research findings.

 

Associate Professor Wu (left one) and his laboratory team members

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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