Betting v. Introspecting

by F.

A recent paper in Nature Neuroscience suggests an interesting way to figure out what your brain knows—see what you’re willing to bet on:

Persaud and colleagues use…wagering to reveal consciousness or lack thereof. In the experiments reported here, subjects do not directly state their confidence in their awareness. Instead, subjects first make a decision regarding whether they’ve perceived something and then must wager either a small or a large amount of money on their confidence in this decision. If the subject’s decision proves correct, she wins this money; otherwise, she loses it. The optimal strategy is to bet high whenever she feels that she is not just guessing. The experimentalists apply this wagering technique to three examples of nonconscious processing….

The wagering techniques used by Persaud, McLeod and Cowey rely on people’s instinct for reaping a profit. Compared to forcing subjects to become aware of their own consciousness — and in the process perturbing the very phenomenon one wishes to measure — wagering provides a more subtle way to assess awareness. This is an exciting and revealing new way to study awareness and consciousness. From such small steps comes progress in answering the age-old question of how consciousness arises from experience.

Seems like this could be useful in real life. When facing a decision, or wondering what you think about a decision (“Should I go to the prom with Pat, or Leslie?”), you could place a “bet” on each alternative, in effect wagering on your gut feelings.