Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bias in decision-making leads to poor choices and possibly depression

Date:
March 8, 2012
Source:
University College London
Summary:
When faced with making a complicated decision, our automatic instinct to avoid misfortune can result in missing out on rewards, and could even contribute to depression, according to new research.

Pruning options for a decision can be likened to pruning in the garden. When planning a series of actions, it is usually infeasible to consider all potential future sequences; instead, one must prune the decision tree. Researchers have now found a connection between pruning options and depressive symptoms.
Credit: Yi Liu / Fotolia

When faced with making a complicated decision, our automatic instinct to avoid misfortune can result in missing out on rewards, and could even contribute to depression, according to new research.

Related Articles


The results of a new study, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, suggest that our brains subconsciously use a simplistic strategy in order to filter out options when faced with a complex decision. However, the research also highlights how this strategy can lead to poor choices, and could possibly contribute to depression -- a condition characterised by impaired decision-making.

In the study, researchers at UCL looked at how people make chains of several decisions, where each step depends on the previous one. Often, the total number of possible choices is far too large to consider them each individually. One way to simplify the problem is to avoid considering any plan where the first step has a seriously negative association -- no matter what the overall outcome would be. This 'pruning' decision-making bias, which was demonstrated in this paper for the first time, can result in poor decisions.

Lead author Dr Quentin Huys from the UCL Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, explained: "Imagine planning a holiday -- you could not possibly consider every destination in the world. To reduce the number of options, you might instinctively avoid considering going to any countries that are more than 5 hours away by plane because you don't enjoy flying.

"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."

In the study, the researchers asked a group of 46 volunteers with no known psychiatric disorders to plan chains of decisions in which they moved around a maze -- on each step they either gained or lost money. The volunteers instinctively avoided paths starting with large losses, even if those decisions would have won them the most money overall. Interestingly, the amount of pruning the volunteers showed was related to the extent to which they reported experiencing depressive symptoms, though none were actually clinically depressed.

Neir Eshel, co-author of the paper, formerly at the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and now at Harvard Medical School, said: "The reflex to prune the number of possible options is a double-edged sword. Although necessary to simplify complicated decisions, it could also lead to poor choices."

The researchers link the surprising association with depressive symptoms to the brain chemical serotonin, which is known to be involved in both avoidance and depression, and may also contribute to the optimism bias. However, this role for serotonin in pruning needs to be confirmed in further studies.

Dr Tali Sharot, also from UCL but not involved in the study, said: "This is a fascinating study linking "pruning" to depressive symptoms. The novel finding may have important implications for understanding and treating depression."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Quentin J. M. Huys, Neir Eshel, Elizabeth O'Nions, Luke Sheridan, Peter Dayan, Jonathan P. Roiser. Bonsai Trees in Your Head: How the Pavlovian System Sculpts Goal-Directed Choices by Pruning Decision Trees. PLoS Computational Biology, 2012; 8 (3): e1002410 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002410

Cite This Page:

University College London. "Bias in decision-making leads to poor choices and possibly depression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120308174811.htm>.
University College London. (2012, March 8). Bias in decision-making leads to poor choices and possibly depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120308174811.htm
University College London. "Bias in decision-making leads to poor choices and possibly depression." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120308174811.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins