Apr 13, 2008

does it take the brain 7 seconds to make decisions conscious?

Surprising research suggests something to that effect:
When Hayne's team later analysed the fMRI scans, they found that the prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain that is involved in thought and consciousness – lit up seven seconds before the subjects pressed the button.

By deciphering the brain signals with a computer program, the researchers could predict which button a subject had pressed about 60% of the time – slightly better than a random guess.

"It seems that the brain is making the decision before the person themselves," he says.

Although we make some choices in a heartbeat, Haynes thinks his experiment captures the dawdling tempo of daily life.

"In most cases, we decide internally in a self-paced way: 'Now I want to get some orange juice' or 'I'm going to get some apple juice instead','" he says.

Our brains might pick beverages long before we realise, but Haynes thinks such decisions are still a matter of choice. "My conscious will is consistent with my unconscious will – it's the same process," he says.
Note the careful choice of language in the title to this post: "make decisions conscious," not "make conscious decisions." If, with further repetition and refinement, the results bear out, the adjective's order matters a great deal. (With a small sample size and crude technology, the "if" is rather large at this point. We'll have to see.)

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