Clues to ADHD and schizophrenia found in decision-making ability


Decision-making accuracy can be improved by postponing the making of a decision by a mere fraction of a second. Results from a Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) study may increase the understanding of neuropsychiatric conditions which have abnormalities in cognitive function. They may also lead to new training strategies to improve decision-making in high stress environments. “Decision-making isn’t always easy, and sometimes we make errors on seemingly trivial tasks, especially if multiple sources of information compete for our attention,” explained Tobias Teichert, PhD, first author and postdoctoral research scientist at CUMC at the time of the study. “We have identified a novel mechanism that is surprisingly effective at improving response accuracy.”

Improving response accuracy

So the mechanism for improving decisions is… do nothing. “Postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out irrelevant distractors,” noted last author Jack Grinband, PhD, associate research scientist in the Taub Institute.

Sorting data in milliseconds

When making a decision, the brain integrates many small pieces of data, some of it contradictory. When there are distractors, it takes time for the brain to filter them out. Errors can occur in the process of filtering out bad while analyzing good. Prolonging the decision allows the brain to collect more information and increases accuracy. “Basically the decision onset – simply by doing nothing – you are more likely to make a correct decision,” noted Dr. Twichert.

Procrastinators rejoice

“This might be the first scientific study to justify procrastination,” said Dr. Teichert. “On a more serious note, our study provides important insights into fundamental brain processes and yields clues as to what might be going wrong in diseases such as ADHD and schizophrenia. It also could lead to new training strategies to improve decision making in complex high-stakes environments, such as air traffic control towers and military combat.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, PLoS One

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