Cant Face the Choice
What happens when intentions do not match outcomes? These subjects didnt detect such mismatches and instead developed confabulations to account for them.
Researcher Michael Gazzaniga has hypothesized that an "interpreter" in the left frontal cortex attempts to make sense of things, even for the wrong reasons. A new Swedish study examines mismatches between intention and outcome and provides evidence of our ability to rationalize mistakes.
A group of 120 participants (70 women) were shown 15 pairs of pictures with female faces and were asked to choose the more attractive face of each pair. Time intervals for deliberation were randomized to 2 seconds, 5 seconds, and unlimited time. Card pairs were categorized as having high or low similarity. During six trials, participants were immediately shown their chosen card again and asked to verbalize their reasons for that choice. On three of these trials, the cards were switched in a "double-card ploy."
Subjects detected concurrently only 13% of the switches. The unlimited-time condition produced a higher rate of detection, but participants detection rates were no different between high- and low-similarity sets. When given unlimited time for low-similarity pairs, participants detected only 27% of the switches. The researchers analyzed the verbal reports of choices. "Specific confabulation," when participants mentioned features unique to the switched picture, occurred in 13.3%. Other types of confabulation occurred in 58.7%. "Original choice" reports, which were inconsistent with the switched picture, occurred in 11.2%.
Comment: These findings reveal our tendencies to trust and to make rationalizations. Functional imaging could reveal the brain areas involved and whether other brain areas detect mismatches, even when we do not consciously recognize them. The issue of confabulation (and malingering) has been studied in forensic settings. This study raises the question of what is "normal" confabulation in nonclinical settings.
Jonathan Silver, MD
Published in Journal Watch Psychiatry December 7, 2005
Johansson P et al. Failure to detect mismatches between intention and outcome in a simple decision task. Science 2005 Oct 7; 310:116-9.
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