Brain Games: Explained

This article was written by Susan Whitbourne, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, and she explains five of the popular cognitive theories behind the television show, Brain Games, of which I will discuss three.

The first is called the Decoy Effect, which was introduced in one of the Ted Talks we listened to earlier, titled “Are we in Control of our own Decisions?”.  The decoy effect is explained in both cases as manipulating a choice between two options.  It is harder to choose if you want a more expensive item that is better quality or a cheaper item that is not as good quality, but when you add in a third item, the decision becomes clearer.  The article it uses wallets an example, which Choplin and Hummel (2002), explained by attribute-value evaluation.  If you have a good quality 50 dollar wallet and a 30 dollar lower quality wallet it is hard to decide which one you want, but when a 60 dollar wallet that is lower quality that the 50 dollar one is present, research suggests that people are most likely to buy the 50 dollar wallet.  An option people are the least likely to buy is added not because it will be profitable on its own, but because it will help sell the other item that is more expensive.

The second cognitive theory explained is Choice blindness, also called Change Blindness, which is when you are not able to detect a change between two items.  In class we talked about this as an example of a person not being able to detect the difference between one person you were talking to, and then a change of scenery occurs or the person leaves and comes back, but now it is a different person.  Johansson et al., (2005) tested choice blindness by asking people to rate two females on perceived attractiveness, for some people, when asked to defend their choice, the researches switched the participants result, telling them that they had actually chosen A instead of B.  For about 75 percent of the trials, the participants did not realize that the researches had switched their answer, so the participants ended up defending the female they originally thought was less attractive.

The third theory proposes that visual illusions, such as the Muller-Lyer illusion we learned in class, are due to time.  Mark Changizi (2008) believes that our perception in our brain is about 1/100th of a second behind the stimulation that our retina receives.  This minute gap in time causes us to believe that we see the stimulus differently than it actually is.  In the Muller-Lyer example, that small gap in time could be the reason that our eyes are drawn toward the ends of the arrow, making us believe that one line is longer than the other when they are actually the same length.

This article from Psychology Today, a well-known magazine in print and online that discusses a wide range of topics in psychology.  Because this article was written by a woman with a Ph.D. and included research from other psychologists I think it accurately describes these common topics in cognitive psychology.  This article helps people who watch Brain Games understand the cognitive theories behind the TV show that might not be explained to this extent on the show.  This is important because people are now more informed and can have a deeper understanding of how their brain thinks and perceives things the way it does, and how some things may seem to be tricking your brain.