How our brains decide whether to hold ’em or to fold ’em
Picture yourself at a Las Vegas poker table, holding a bad hand—one with a very low chance of winning. Even so, the sight of the large stack of chips that piled up during a recent lucky streak nudges you to place a large bet anyway.
Why do people make high-risk decisions—not only in casinos, but also in other aspects of their lives—even when they know the odds are stacked against them?
A team led by a Johns Hopkins biomedical engineer has found that the decision to “up the ante” even in the face of long odds is the result of an internal bias that adds up over time and involves a “push-pull” dynamic between the brain’s two hemispheres.
Whether you are suffering from a losing streak or riding a wave of wins, your cumulative feelings from each preceding hand all contribute to this nudge factor, they say. A paper on the study is to be published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Insights from the research have the potential to shed light on how soldiers in high-risk combat situations make decisions and to facilitate more effective brain training to change long-term behaviors or habits, the researchers suggest.
“What we learned is that there is a bias that develops over time that may make people view risk differently,” said senior author Sridevi Sarma, a biomedical engineering professor at the university’s Whiting School of Engineering and a member of its Institute for Computational Medicine. Pierre Sacré, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins, co-led the study.