Author Archives: Clare

anxiety and decision-making

A new study says that higher levels of anxiety can lead to poor decision-making. Decision-making depends on proper functioning of specific neurons within sub regions of the prefrontal cortex. It plays an important role in long term planning, consequences, risk and reward, and the regulation of emotions. A study published in the journal of neuroscience found that anxiety suppresses the general spontaneity of the PFC. If the area of the brain that executes our decision making is not functioning properly we are more likely to make poor decisions. This can be bad because poor decisions can lead to bad situations, which may get you stuck in a rut of poor decision-making. 

The area responsible for decision-making is not fully developed until the age of 25. Working against us, the brain is also more prone to anxiety during adolescence and early adulthood. This may account for some of our early poor decision-making. The latest research has shown that helping to manage anxiety can lead to better decision-making. Managing anxiety can be a difficult thing to do. Many people struggle their whole lives without relief. 

This video is most relevant at 4:10 but the whole video is educational. 

People who have a general anxiety disorder tend to experience anxiety for a period longer than 6 months and have trouble pin-pointing exactly what is causing the anxiety. Everyone experiences some form of anxiety during their life but there are things you can do to avoid anxious situations and help to avoid poor decision making. 

One thing is trying to decipher what is actually causing your anxiety. If you tend to feel anxious when you put off tests or projects, start them earlier and work slowly until they are due. If it is a certain situation or place that gives you anxiety try to avoid that place or create coping methods. 

You can avoid making poor decisions by monitoring your anxiety. If you feel yourself getting stressed and you know you have important decisions to make, de-stress before making those decisions. This will allow you to address the decisions with a clear mind, likely avoiding a poor decision.

Regardless of how hard we try, we are going to make poor decisions at some point in our lives but avoiding making decisions while stressed and anxious will decrease that likelihood.

Here is a very cheesy video that gives suggestions on how to lower stress and anxiety and what those are.

This is a really good video for most of the decision making, problem solving, algorithms, heuristics, and biases.


Has cognitive psychology changed your March Madness Bracket?

Heuristics are simple, efficient learned rules that have been posed to explain how people make decisions, judgements, and solve problems. These “rules” are working around us much more than you would expect and may effect how you do things, including the march madness brackets. These simple and efficient rules are influenced by bias’ that can change what our normal behavior would be. These bias’ may have caused you to make poor decisions about your bracket when you maybe shouldn’t have.

The confirmation bias is most likely a cause of choosing a team you have been skeptical about because you have heard some information supporting your decision. Watching all the “experts” fill out their brackets will likely have a large influence on this. If you were going back and forth between picking Notre Dame and Wisconsin but the guys on sports center all take Notre Dame. Your opinion has been confirmed and you are more likely to go with Notre Dame. When these “experts” talk so confidently about a teams record and their likelihood to succeed, you are more likely to conform to that idea.

The negativity bias can also play an important role. Deciding to take Duke over North Carolina because you are a Duke fan and hate North Carolina even though NC has a better chance of winning, is an example of negativity bias. Although NC has a better record and had been performing better going in to March Madness, it doesn’t matter they are rivals, and you are a Duke fan. This is going to cause you to put more feeling on the negative feelings you have for NC than to use facts and decide they are more likely to win.

Was your bracket a victim of groupthink? Although you know that Hawaii probably wont beat Maryland, you pick Hawaii anyway because they are the underdog and you and your friend have been talking about how awesome the upset would be. You decide to take Hawaii over Maryland even though Maryland is a higher seed because you think the risk will pay off in your bracket and no one has told you otherwise. You have become a victim of groupthink. Although you know that Hawaii is not as likely to win the game and ruin your bracket, you do it anyway. You have the available information to make a good decision but you take part in the risky behavior anyway.

Although there are no sure fire ways to set a winning bracket there are some things you can do to avoid falling in to the cognitive traps. To avoid groupthink, seek advice of people who may have different opinions than you. If you know your best friend is going to agree with you, ask someone else. They may have a point you haven’t thought of. The confirmation bias can be avoided by making your decisions without watching hours of sports center and reading the same articles over and over. Taking your personal opinion or judgement out of the picture can help to avoid the negativity bias. Instead of choosing your favorite team, even though they aren’t quite as good, choose the one you think is most likely to win.

This video does not have a ton to do with what my post is about but it fits what we covered in class really well if you skip to 3:37

False memory. Emotional or Factual?

I spent this past weekend in Connecticut with my cousin. My cousin went to Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. This weekend we entered into a heated discussion about memory and how it changes the way we currently view people. After a long discussion where I tried to sound as studious as possible, we began discussing the study in my previous post done by by Ulric Neisser. In the study he asked people where they were the day after a traumatic event, who they were with, and how they felt. He continued to call the participant’s months, then years after they participated in the initial survey. 

My cousin is a bit older than I am and was living in New York City when the Trade Towers were bombed on September 11. He refuted every study I mentioned by “proving” that he could recount every moment of that day. He claims that the impact that the residents of that city felt will never be forgotten. 

Memory can be a faulty reconstruction of the events that have actually occurred. If this happens false memory occurs. This is when we inaccurately recall events around a specific memory. This being said, my cousin has a very emotional attachment to his memories of 9/11. He is unwavering in the fact that this is exactly how it happened, where he was, who he was with, and who he talked to. 

After speaking with my cousin I decided to see if anyone had performed the same type of study that was done by Ulric Neisser to see if our memory had improved over time.  I found one article that took a different consideration than Neisser had. The study found that people more accurately remembered facts than their own personal recollections of what happened. People more accurately answered questions like “Who was President when the Towers were bombed?” The percentages were high immediately after the attacks, then dropped a bit, then went back to high rates of accuracy.  Does this mean we are more accurate if asked “where were you?” or “What day was that?” than we are if being asked, “Who were you with?” or “What did you feel?” 

These are questions that have yet to be answered. The only conclusive evidence I have found among different studies, the blogs I have read, and my cousin’s recollection is the smell. Almost every single person interviewed can remember the smell of the buildings and ash with incredible accuracy and detail. This brings me to one question; is smell the strongest link to our memory?

This is the article I found most interesting;

9/11 study

Do you remember as well as you think?

Contrary to what you think, you probably do not remember things as accurately as you think. A study done in 1988 by Ulric Neisser proved that many of our memories change overtime and become somewhat inaccurate. Neisser handed out a survey to some of his students following the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. He asked them where they were when they heard, who they were with, and what they were doing. Neisser followed up two years later asking the students the same questions. He ranked their accuracy on a scale of 7. On average, students got less than 3 with 25 percent receiving a zero.

Scientists think memory begins with encoding. The memory is then consolidated until reaching the final step remembering or retrieving the memory. Each and every time you remember something, the neural pathway to that memory gets stronger. This could be why the students were inaccurate in remembering where they were or who they were with. I would assume that the students did not access those memories frequently so, the neural pathway to those memories was not strong.

This could be why many studies have shown it is better to study for 2 to 3 hours and then take a break instead of cramming for 8 hours. The more times you revisit the learned information the stronger the neural pathway. This makes the memory easier to retrieve come test time. If you are just cramming the information over and over again you are not allowing the information to go through the cycle of formation. When you access that information so quickly after introduction, you are not fully retrieving it.

In all, I found this video most helpful in beginning to understand the complexities of memory.