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Too Many Choices Can Overwhelm Your Brain, Finds Study

Too Many Choices Can Overwhelm Your Brain, Finds Study

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  10 Oct 2018 7:25 AM GMT

Do you always find it troublesome to make up your mind what to order for lunch? According to the researchers, this can be because of the development of selection overload, that happens as a result of too several decisions being available to your brain.

A study conducted at California Institute of Technology by Colin Camerer reveals new insights into selection overload, as well as the elements of the brain chargeable for it, and the way several choices the brain really prefers once it's creating a selection.

In the study, volunteers were conferred with footage of scenic landscapes that they might have written on a bit of merchandise such as a coffee mug. Every participant was offered a variety of sets of pictures, containing six, 12, or 24 pictures. They were asked to form their choice while a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine recorded activity in their brains. As an impact, the volunteers were asked to browse the pictures once more, however, the volunteers were asked to browse the images again, but this time their image selection was made randomly by a computer.

The fMRI scans revealed brain activity in two regions whereas the participants were creating their choices: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), where the potential prices and advantages of choices are weighed, Camerer said; and the striatum, a part of the brain responsible for determining value.

Camerer and his colleagues conjointly saw that activity in these two regions was highest in subjects who had 12 choices to select from, and lowest in those with either six or twenty-four things to decide on from.

Camerer said that the pattern of activity is perhaps the results of the corpus striatum and the ACC interacting and weighing the increasing potential for reward (getting a picture they really like for their mug) against the increasing amount of work the brain will have to do to evaluate possible outcomes.

As the variety of choices will increase, the potential reward will increase, on the other hand, begins to change surface because of decreasing returns. "The plan is that the most effective out of 12 is perhaps rather sensible, whereas the jump to the most effective out of 24 isn't a giant improvement," Camerer said.

At the same time, the amount of effort that is required to evaluate the options increases. Together, mental effort and the potential reward result in a sweet spot where the reward isn't too low and the effort isn't too high. This pattern was not seen when the subjects merely browsed the images because there was no potential for reward, and thus less effort was required when evaluating the options.

Camerer points out that 12 isn't some magic number for human decision-making, but rather an artifact of the experimental design. He estimates that the ideal number of options for a person is probably somewhere between 8 and 15, depending on the perceived reward, the difficulty of evaluating the options, and the person's individual characteristics.

Of course, a trip to the nearest grocery store is likely to reveal that lots of products come in many more than a dozen varieties. There might be a whole aisle of toothpaste of varying brands, sizes, flavors, textures, and properties, and on the condiment aisle, there might be dozens of kinds of mustards to choose from.

Camerer said that's partly because people tend to feel freer and like they have more control over their lives when they have more options to choose from, even if having all those options ends up distressing them at decision time.

"Essentially, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs," he said. "When we think about how many choices we want, we may not be mentally representing the frustrations of making the decision."

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