The neural basis of belief updating and rational decision making
2014, Achtziger, Anja, Alós-Ferrer, Carlos, Hügelschäfer, Sabine, Steinhauser, Marco
Rational decision making under uncertainty requires forming beliefs that integrate prior and new information through Bayes’ rule. Human decision makers typically deviate from Bayesian updating by either overweighting the prior (conservatism) or overweighting new information (e.g. the representativeness heuristic). We investigated these deviations through measurements of electrocortical activity in the human brain during incentivized probability-updating tasks and found evidence of extremely early commitment to boundedly rational heuristics. Participants who overweight new information display a lower sensibility to conflict detection, captured by an event-related potential (the N2) observed around 260 ms after the presentation of new information. Conservative decision makers (who overweight prior probabilities) make up their mind before new information is presented, as indicated by the lateralized readiness potential in the brain. That is, they do not inhibit the processing of new information but rather immediately rely on the prior for making a decision.
Responding to subliminal cues : do if-then plans facilitate action preparation and initiation without conscious intent?
2009, Bayer, Ute C., Achtziger, Anja, Gollwitzer, Peter M., Moskowitz, Gordon B.
Forming implementation intentions ( If I encounter cue X, then I will perform behavior Y! ) is postulated to trigger action initiation without further conscious intent once the specified cue is encountered (Gollwitzer, 1999). In two experiments using an injustice paradigm or a categorization task, critical situations (specified in the if-component) were subliminally presented and it was tested whether these situations influenced the preparation (Study 1) and initiation (Study 2) of the planned goal-directed behavior (specified in the then-component). After the subliminal presentation of the critical situations, implementation intention participants showed stronger action preparation and a faster action initiation, as compared to control participants (Study 1) who had not formed any goal intention at all, and compared to participants (Studies 1 and 2) who had only formed goal intentions. These findings suggest that forming implementation intentions leads to automatic action initiation without further conscious intent.
Staying on track: Planned goal striving is protected from disruptive internal states
2010, Bayer, Ute C., Gollwitzer, Peter M., Achtziger, Anja
Past implementation intention research focused on shielding goal striving from disruptive internal states (e.g., being anxious) by forming if then plans that link these very states to instrumental coping responses. In the present line of research, we investigated whether planning out goal striving by means of if then plans specifying opportunities to initiate goal-directed responses also protects goal striving from the negative impact of disruptive internal states. Indeed, in the face of disruptive internal states, participants who had been asked to form implementation intentions that targeted opportunities for initiating goal-directed responses outperformed participants with a mere goal intention to do well on a focal task goal. Actually, implementation intention participants performed as well as control participants who were not burdened by disruptive internal states such as being in a certain mood (Study 1), ego-depleted (Study 2), or self-definitionally incomplete (Study 3). Results are discussed by pointing to the importance of hypo-egoic self-regulation.
Strategies of intention formation are reflected in continuous MEG activity
2009, Achtziger, Anja, Fehr, Thorsten, Oettingen, Gabriele, Gollwitzer, Peter M., Rockstroh, Brigitte
Self-regulation of intention formation is pivotal for achieving behavior change. Fantasy realization theory (Oettingen, 2000) assumes that mentally contrasting a desired positive future with present negative reality turns high expectations of success into strong intentions to realize the desired future, while indulging in the positive future fails to do so. The present study tests the theory s process assumption that mental contrasting is a cognitively demanding, purposeful problem-solving strategy involving working and episodic memory, whereas indulging is a mindless daydreaming strategy involving the free flow of thought, by investigating the neural correlates of the two strategies via continuous magnetoencephalographic (MEG) activity. We observed greater activity during mental contrasting (but not indulging) compared to resting in prefrontal, frontal, parietal, and temporal areas, indicating that mental contrasting involves strong intention formation, working memory, and episodic memory. In addition, heightened activity of occipital areas was observed during mental contrasting compared to resting and indulging, suggesting that mental contrasting, more than indulging and resting, entails purposefully creating mental images. Taken together, these findings indicate that mental contrasting is indeed a purposeful problem-solving strategy based on past performance history, whereas indulging is a purposeless daydreaming strategy that is oblivious to past experiences.