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New Brain Test Determines Self Confidence


Scientists have designed a procedure called ‘decoded neurofeedback’ to help to examine people’s brain activity associated with feelings of self confidence. Whenever brain activity shows feelings of confidence the participants were given a reward such as a small amount of money.  The researchers discovered that by giving them a reward it increased their confidence.  They said that this technique would also be capable of minimising the person’s confidence if they were rewarded when their brain exhibited a pattern that was related to poor confidence.  The results “add to the growing body of evidence on how confidence is generated in the brain” said the researchers in the Journal of Nature Communications.  The researchers are hoping that this type of decoded neurofeedback will also be successful  in eliminating bad memories from the brain.  The study consisted of 17 people having their brains scanned during a perceptual task. e.g. they had to determine if the dots appearing on a screen were moving from left to right.  Then they were asked how confident they were regarding their choice.


The scientists then used their technique to ‘decode’ brain activity waves that were associated with the participants who said they were very confident about their choice.  Study researcher Mitsu Kawato, director of the Computational Neuroscience Laboratories at ATR, a research institute in Kyoto, Japan said he wanted to know “how is confidence represented in the brain.” “To find out, the researchers looked for specific patterns in the brain that could reliably tell us when a participant was in a high or low confidence state.” He added that he hopes “to make the occurrence of a confident state more likely to happen in the future.”  In order for this to occur the participants were asked to lie in a brain scanner while staring at a picture of a white disc.  They were asked to “regulate” their brain waves so that their brain would perceive the disc image grow in size, but they had to do this by themselves.  The scientists didn’t tell them how to make this possible.  Afterwards some participants said “I was counting.” “I was focusing on the disc itself,” or “I was thinking about food.”


The researchers revealed that the disc image increased when the brain scanned showed them in a high confident state.  After the session they were given an amount of money depending on how big they said the disc grew.  Study researcher Aurelio Cortese, also of ATR said “by continuously pairing the occurrence of the highly confident state with a reward, a small amount of money, in real time we were able to make participants more confident on perceptual task.” The researchers are hoping that in the future they will be able to use this technique to help psychiatric conditions where a person’s confidence is low, such as depression.

Charan Ranganath a professor for the Centre for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, said “there’s a limit to what you can infer from this study.” “You can train people to be more confident in making left-right decisions, but that doesn’t generalize, necessarily, to any other decision in life.” He went on to say that more research is needed to determine whether this would benefit people in situations such as public speaking or different social events. “It’s kind of another piece of evidence to say, when people are confident, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right or wrong.”

“It’s important for people to understand that somebody who’s confidently saying something doesn’t necessarily know more than somebody who’s not confidently saying it” he said.



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