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The Brain's Mental Shortcuts Often Lead to Bad Decision-Making, Psychologists Say [VIDEO]

Update Date: Apr 06, 2017 08:22 AM EDT

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that mental shortcuts, or known in psychology as heuristics, allow individuals to solve problems and make judgments quickly. However, heuristics does not always work very well. In fact, mental shortcuts often lead to bad decision-making, the authors of the study point out.

Psychologists at the University of Duke made cognitive tests to verify if serious thinking errors occur when one is using a mental shortcut. In an experiment, participants were asked to take part in an economic game.

Situation one is where they were given $20, but with two choices: 1.) out of the $20, they will surely keep $10 of it; 2.) flip the coin and if it is heads, one gets to keep all $20; and tails, one goes home empty-handed. In this, participants opted for choice one, taking the sure bet of $10.

Situation two is where participants were also given $20, but the choices were alternated: 1.) lose $10 and keep the remaining; 2.) flip a coin and if heads, one gets all $20. But if tails, one gets nothing; most opted for choice two.

The brain evaluates two things differently. Both scenarios carry the same level of risk but the participants fell for what's called the "framing effect." This effect shows the way a problem is a framed influence to whether take a risk or play it safe, according to the Lumen Instructor

Go back to the situations and notice that the first thing the brain acknowledges is option one. In Situation One, most participants chose option one because it is the safer choice; thus, the brain going into a mental shortcut, while on Situation Two, participants chose option two because the first option posed a negative effect of the word lose.

If one did not use mental shortcuts in the situations given, one could actually weigh and notice that both are of the same level of risk. But due to heuristics, the brain scanned two same situations differently, leading to bad decision-making, the Huffington Post cited in an article.

Dr. Rosa Lee, the study's lead author wrote in the Journal that the findings of the study support the theory that the biased decision-making seen in the framing effect is due to a lack of mental effort or mental shortcuts, rather than due to emotions.

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