Tag Archives: “thin-slicing”

Neuronal Recordings Suggest “Free Will” Might be “Free Won’t”

Itzhak Fried

Itzhak Fried

People may think they consciously control their actions and performance, but findings from UCLA’s Itzhak Fried and Roy Mukamel with Gabriel Kreiman of Harvard challenged conventional assumptions about “conscious intention” and “free will. ”

Roy Mukamel

Roy Mukamel

Fried, Mukamel, and Kreiman adopted Benjamin Libet’s procedure to assess “free will” at University of California, San Francisco, using intracranial recordings to identify neuron activity that precedes and predicts volunteers’ decision to move a finger.

Gabriel Kreiman

Gabriel Kreiman

Volunteers, who had electrodes implanted in their brains to record early indicators of seizures, pressed a button when they chose and indicated the clock’s hand position when they decided to press the button.

Libet’s process marks the time a voluntary action occurred, and the volunteer’s report of when the decision to act was completed.
These data points enabled researchers to identify specific neurons that were active during the time around the conscious decision to act and the completed action.

Benjamin Libet

Benjamin Libet

About a quarter of neurons in the frontal lobe’s supplementary motor area (responsible for motor activity coordination) and the anterior cingulate cortex (which directs attention and motivation) changed activity before volunteers said they wanted to press the button.

Spontaneous, voluntary acts were initiated in the cerebrum about 200 milliseconds before the person was consciously aware of the ‘decision’ to act, and researchers predicted with greater than 80 percent accuracy whether a movement had occurred and when the decision to make it happened.

Libet’s team suggested that unconscious brain processes, which are more rapid than conscious decision-making (“free will”), are the instigators of volitional acts.
However, these researchers also proposed that “free will” is more accurately described as “free won’t” because conscious volition can exercise “veto power” over intentions to act.

Kreiman extended this research to better understand loss of voluntary movement in Parkinson’s disease when he pre-empted volunteers’ movements after observing brain activation in the supplementary motor area and the anterior cingulate cortex.
StopHe activated a “stop” sign on a screen in front of each volunteer before the person actually moved, and reported that his volunteers frequently said, ”That was weird. It was like you read my mind.”

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

These brain studies complement Stanford professor Nalini Ambady’s work at Harvard University on “thin slicing”, or the experience of “knowing before you know.”
Also described as “intuition” or “unconscious cognitive processing,” these findings suggest that the conscious mind is the last to know when we make a decision.

-*How do you manage the discrepancy between unconscious mental processes and conscious awareness of them?

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“Productive Pause”, Intuition for Better Decisions

Everyday wisdom offers familiar advice to curtail impulsivity through slowing down and reflecting:

  • “Go slow to go fast”
  • “Sleep on it”
  • “Wait before sending an emotional email”
  • “Count to 10, think again”
Frank Partnoy

Frank Partnoy

Former investment banker and lawyer Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay provides empirical evidence on the value of delay to increase the quality of decisions and performance across investment, sports, comedy, and other disciplines.Wait

Creativity experts have demonstrated the importance of an “incubation period” in developing innovative solutions, and Partnoy suggests that similar principles provide and advantage: gathering maximum information in uncertain situations, by executing decisions and performance close to the last opportunity.

University of San Diego’s Partnoy recommends a three step approach to decision-making:

1) Determine the maximum time available to gather information and take the decision
2) Consider, reflect, “incubate” on the information as long as possible
3) Act quickly at the last possible moment

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

His approach could be summarized by referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking : “Don’t just blink but think.”

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Gladwell argues that people with expert experience and insight are often skilled at using ‘adaptive unconscious’ intuition to “thin-slice” subtle cues to filter relevant information from “noise,” a concept based on Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal’s research at Harvard.

Justin Albrechtsen

Justin Albrechtsen

Christian Meissner

Christian Meissner

Research by Justin Albrechtsen, Christian Meissner, and Kyle Susa  of University of Texas at El Paso demonstrated “thin-slicing” when they found that intuitive processing can lead to more accurate judgments of deception when compared with deliberative processing.

Kyle Susa

Kyle Susa

Gladwell and these researchers acknowledge that non-experts, and even experts, can be make erroneous decisions due to bias and prejudice that comes from automatic thinking and habitual cognitive heuristics like the halo effect.

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson of Leeds University found that biased intuitive judgment may be mitigated by “devil’s advocacy” and applying analytical tools like multi-attribute decision analysis and root cause analysis.

He suggests that informed intuition or ‘intelligent-unconscious’ results from subconscious information storage, processing and retrieval, and has conducted several empirical studies to evaluate its mechanisms applied to developing business strategies.

Intuitive judgment was positively correlated with quality and speed of decisions, organizational financial and non-financial performance in at least five studies.

Hodgkinson’s team summarized recent advances in neuroscience, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to explain complementary intuitive and analytical approaches to decision making  instead of the overly-simplified notion of left brain vs right brain processing  strengths.

He synthesized intuition attributes:

  • Instantaneous insight after incubation period
  • Subjective judgments
  • Based on experience, tacit knowledge, “knowing without knowing
  • Arise through rapid, non-conscious holistic associations
  • Affectively-charged: “feels right”, experienced as ‘‘inklings’’ or ‘‘glimmerings’’
  • Lacking verbalization or conscious awareness of problem solving.

Cognitive neuroscientists have differentiated intuition from instinct and insight using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques.

Instinct refers to hardwired, autonomous reflex actions, whereas insight involves recognizing and articulating a problem’s structure, and may follow from intuition.

Hodgkinson’s research suggests that intuition can be enhanced by increasing:

  • Expertise (“prepared mind” or ‘‘deep smarts’’)
  • Self-awareness (feeling and cognitive style)
  • Reflection
Akio Morita

Akio Morita

His team’s research supports an assertion by Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony and driving force behind its successful Sony Walkman, that ‘‘creativity requires something more than the processing of information. It requires human thought, spontaneous intuition and a lot of courage.’’

-*How have you used pauses or intuition to strengthen decision-making and advance business innovation?

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