We can never be sure what other people are thinking. Or can we?
Researchers at the UNSW, Sydney have used machine learning to better predict the choices of others — before they’re even aware of making them.
For those who value free will, however, it may be reassuring to know it is not 100 per cent accurate.
UNSW Professor Joel Pearson said the team’s experiments show it is possible to predict at least some human choices in laboratory conditions at a level “above chance”.
But the findings are more useful for understanding how our brains work than trying to win at poker.
Subjects were given a random choice between two alternative light patterns. They were then asked to visualise one under an MRI scan
The team could sometimes predict which pattern would be chosen up to 11 seconds before the subject was conscious of having made up their mind.
They did it by matching the light pattern with areas of identified pervious brain activity.
“We believe that when we are faced with the choice between two or more options of what to think about, non-conscious traces of the thoughts are there already,” Professor Pearson says.
“In other words, if any pre-existing brain activity matches one of your choices, then your brain will be more likely to pick that option as it gets boosted by the pre-existing brain activity.
“This would explain, for example, why thinking over and over about something leads to ever more thoughts about it, as it occurs in a positive feedback loop.”
The team’s work could have implications for treatment of mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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