Can Images Prompt You To Be Impulsive?

Brain waves can be used to predict snap judgments people make about an image, even when people are not conscious of making such judgments, according to new research from University of Melbourne.

Researchers were able to predict from participants’ brain activity how exciting they found a particular image to be and whether a particular image made them think more about the future or the present.

This was true even though the brain activity was recorded before participants knew they were going to be asked to make these judgments.

The findings illustrate there is more information encoded in brain activity than previously assumed, lead authors Stefan Bode and Carsten Murawski say.

They say the results also offer new insights into impulsive behaviors, especially where those behaviors were caused by “prompts” in the world around us.

Impulsive Behavior vs. Patience

The researchers used electroencephalography technology (EEG) to measure the electrical activity of people’s brains while they looked at different pictures. The pictures displayed images of food, social scenes, or status symbols like cars and money.

After the EEG, researchers showed participants the same pictures again and asked questions about each image, such as how exciting they thought the image was or how strongly the image made them think of either the present or the future.

They used a statistical “decoding” technique to predict the judgments participants made about each of the pictures from the EEG brain activity recorded.

Coauthor Daniel Bennett says just as certain prompts might cause impulsive behavior, images also could be used to prompt people to be more patient by regulating impulse control.

“Our results suggest that prompting people with images related to the future might cause processing outside awareness that could make it easier to think about the future. In theory, this could make people less impulsive and more likely to make healthy long-term decisions. These are hypotheses we will try to test in the future,” he adds.

Bode S, Bennett D, Stahl J, Murawski C (2014)
Distributed Patterns of Event-Related Potentials Predict Subsequent Ratings of Abstract Stimulus Attributes.
PLoS ONE 9(10): e109070. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109070

Photo: Carolina Alves/flickr

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