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Uniwersytet SWPS - Logo

The role of cognitive limitations in predecisional information processing

The role of cognitive limitations in predecisional information processing

principal investigator
Szymon Wichary

psycholog, specjalista z zakresu neuroekonomii, prowadzi badania nad psychologicznymi i biologicznymi mechanizmami podejmowania decyzji

project value: PLN 110,000
funding source : Ministry of Education and Science
discipline: psychology
research center: Institute of Psychology
location: Wrocław
duration: 2010 2011 2012 2013

The project focuses on the impact of cognitive limitations on decision making. This impact is obvious in everyday decision-making, which we often do under time pressure or stress. The current project sheds light on the mechanisms, which determine how we make decisions and how these decisions are influenced by our emotions, memory or the need of cognitive closure.

 

Research project

The role of cognitive limitations in predecisional information processing



Research Unit
UNI SWPS english
Grant Amount
110 000 PLN
Funding Source
MNiSW logo EN

Duration of Research Project: 2010–2013

 

The project focuses on the impact of cognitive limitations on decision making. This impact is obvious in everyday decision-making, which we often do under time pressure or stress. The current project sheds light on the mechanisms, which determine how we make decisions and how these decisions are influenced by our emotions, memory or the need of cognitive closure.

Research objectives

Many deviations from rationality have been documented. Most of the studies in this area focus on the impact of situational variables (e.g. time pressure or task complexity) or the impact of imperfect knowledge. There is relatively little research on the impact of cognitive limitations on decision making.

The main goal of the project is to study the impact of cognitive limitations on predecisional information processing and decision strategy use. The limitations of interest may stem from memory processes, from the influence of emotions, from cognitive aging or from the need for cognitive closure. A second goal is to answer the question whether cognitive limitations impair or aid decision processes. Depending on task conditions, various decision strategies are better suited for making choices and lead to accurate choices

We propose a series of 16 studies to test hypotheses about the relations among cognitive limiatations, their sources and their effects on predecisional information processing ans strategy use.

 

The studies are divided into 4 groups testing specific hypotheses about the impact of:

1) working memory limitations,
2) emotions,
3) need for cognitive closure,
4) cognitive aging.

In each group of studies, two sources of variability in predecisional information processing will be controlled: situational variables and individual differences. This will allow to asses the impact of these factors separately, as well as to assses their joint impact. The main goal of each of the four groups of studies will be to asses predecisional information processing and decision strategy use with the same, standardized methods, which will allow to compare the impact of various sources of cognitive limiatations on decision making. As an additional source of experimental control, psychophysiological methods will be used, namely eyetracking and skin conductance measurement. This will allow to better track the process of predecisional information processing and the affective responses to experimental manipulations.

 

Results

Simplified Decision Making Strategies

Decision making strategies are blueprints for predecisional information processing. Some of them, e.g. compensatory strategies, require complex cognitive activity, such as multiplication or addition, and allow to supplement lack of one type of information with another type of reliable data. Decision making in a state of strong emotional arousal and under the influence of strong negative emotions (e.g. fear or disgust), tends to result in selective processing of information. In such situations people choose simplified decision making strategies, i.e. non-compensatory strategies. It is associated with the production of noradrenaline in the brain. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is produced naturally and has wide ranging effects on many areas of the body. It is responsible for the body's reaction to stressful situations and results in a narrowed analysis of data as well as automatic, uncontrolled, and fast judgements.

Emotional Arousal and Decision Making

An innovative application of psychophysiological assessment allows for better than it was possible before, objective and precise analysis of the impact that arousal has on decision making. Research conducted by Szymon Wichary, Ph.D. has shown a connection between skin conductance and the scope of information we can processes in a given situation. The higher the skin conductance, i.e. tendency for sweaty palms, the less information we are able to analyse in high pressure or stressful situations. As the result, people under stress are more prone to making decisions based on mental shortcuts. This correlation is especially strong in men.

Previous research into this type of correlation indicated that stress results in the limited attention, however it did not explain how stress impacts decision making. In this study we have applied an additional method for identification of decision making strategies. Study participants were asked to choose one of four job candidates in a computer-based task. We were observing how much information about the candidates the participants were downloading and what decision making strategy they were using. Before making the final decision they were exposed to a drastic photograph for six seconds. We wanted to check, if this type of manipulation is effective. Therefore, we measured the level of their palm sweating during the decision making process, explains Szymon Wichary.

Paramedics, firefighters or soldiers, i.e. the first responders in crisis situations, such as accidents, cataclysms, and combat, must make decisions under emotional stress. We can try to help them. Current technologies enable the development of simple monitoring systems for the assessment of physiological reactions and cognitive processes in people making decisions under high cognitive stress, in crisis situations.

 

Publications

  • Wichary, S., Mata, R., Rieskamp, J. (2015). Probabilistic inferences under emotional stress: How arousal affects decision processes. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. DOI: 10.1002/bdm.1896
  • Wichary, S., Domaradzka, E. & Sędek, G. (2012). The impact of aging on information integration in reasoning and decision making. In: M. Eysenck, T. Maruszewski, & M. Fajkowska (Eds.) Personality, Cognition and Emotion. Clinton Corners, NY: Eliot Werner Publications.
  • Wichary, S., Rieskamp, J. (2011). Probabilistic inferences under emotional stress. In L. Carlson, C. Hoelscher, & T.F. Shipley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1872-1877). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.