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Bad Information; Bad Decisions

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

I am a firm believer in the adage that one cannot convince someone to change her mind unless and until she is provided with new or different information. Thus, during the course of mediation, I am unable to change a party’s view of the settlement value of a matter without providing more information.

To some extent, a recent study supports my thinking. In an article published on April 15, 2013 in Science Daily, researchers concluded that making a “wrong” or “bad” decision is not due to the wiring in our brains, but due to the “bad” or “erroneous” information that we received and used in making our decision:

…if the wrong choice is made, Princeton University researchers have found that it might be the information rather than the brain’s decision-making process that is to blame. The researchers report in the journal Science that erroneous decisions tend to arise from errors or “noise” in the information coming into the brain rather than errors in how the brain accumulates information.

To determine this, the researchers had four college age volunteers and 19 laboratory rats listen to “…streams of randomly timed clicks coming into both the left ear and the right ear…” (Id.) The subjects then chose which side from which the clicks originated. The researchers trained the rats to move their noses in one direction or the other to indicate from which side the clicks came.

The researchers found that the subjects, more times than not, choose the correct side. If there was error, it was usually when two clicks overlapped, that is, error in the information coming into the brain. The researchers used this information to create a computer model of what occurs in our brain during decision-making, or while we are gathering information, and mulling it over, but have not yet reached a decision:

The study suggests that information represented and processed in the brain’s neurons must be robust to noise… In other words, the ‘neural code’ may have a mechanism for inherent error correction…”

Consequently, people do make decisions based on the information they receive and, if the decision is a faulty one, it is NOT because the brain improperly processed the information, but because the information itself was bad.

Does this mean that our brains are very much like computers; bad input leads to erroneous results? It seems so.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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