'Clean' your memory to pick a winner, study says

April 22, 2013
brain

Predicting the winner of a sporting event with accuracy close to that of a statistical computer program could be possible with proper training, according to researchers. In a study published today, experiment participants who had been trained on statistically idealized data vastly improved their ability to predict the outcome of a baseball game.

In normal situations, the brain selects a limited number of memories to use as evidence to guide decisions. As real-world events do not always have the most likely outcome, retrieved memories can provide misleading information at the time of a decision.

Now, researchers at UCL and the University of Montreal have found a way to train the brain to accurately predict the outcome of an event, for example a baseball game, by giving subjects idealised scenarios that always conform to .

Dr Bradley Love (UCL Department of Cognition, and ), lead author of study, said: "Providing people with idealized situations, as opposed to actual outcomes, 'cleans' their memory and provides a stock of good quality evidence for the to use."

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers programmed computers to use all available statistics to form a decision - making them more likely to predict the correct outcome. By using all data from previous sports leagues, the computer's predictions always reflected the most likely outcome.

Next, researchers 'trained' the brains of participants by giving them a scenario which they had to predict the outcome of. Two groups of subjects, those given actual outcomes to situations and those given ideal outcomes were trained and then tested to compare their progress.

The scenarios consisted of games between two Major League baseball teams. Participants had to predict which team would win and were told if their prediction was correct. Those in the 'actual' group we told the true outcome of the game and those in the 'ideal' group were given fictional results.

Prior to participants' predictions, the teams had been ranked in order based on their number of wins. For the ideal group, researchers changed the results of the match so the highest ranking team won regardless of the true outcome. This created ideal outcomes for the subjects as the best team always won, which of course does not happen in reality.

Participants in the experiment were tested by being asked to predict the outcomes for the rest of the matches played in the league, but they were not given feedback on their performance. Even though the 'ideal' group had been given incorrect data during training, they were significantly better at predicting the winner.

Dr Love explained: "Unlike machine systems, people's decisions are messy because they rely on whatever memories are retrieved by chance. One consequence is that people perform better when the training situation is idealized – a useful fiction that fits are cognitive limitations."

Participants' prediction abilities were compared to computer models that were either optimized for prediction or modelled on human brains. After ideal outcome training, the study showed that 'ideal' subjects had greatly enhanced their skills and were comparable with the optimized model when predicting baseball game outcomes.

Authors suggest that idealized real world situations could be used to train professionals who rely on the ability to analyze and classify information. Doctors making diagnoses from x-rays, financial analysts and even those wanting to predict the weather could all benefit from the research.

Explore further: Why does simply trusting your feelings lead to much better predictions?

More information: 'Limits in decision making arise from limits in memory retrieval' is published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1219674110

Related Stories

Why does simply trusting your feelings lead to much better predictions?

April 16, 2012
If you trust your feelings you are better able to predict future events—from the weather to the stock market, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Of course, you need to know a little about what ...

Recommended for you

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

scotman1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2013
Bet the bookies are thrilled :-)
awol99
3 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2013
Can we please stop talking about our brains doing this or that. if i walk to the shop it's ME that does it not my feet\legs. yes we all understand the brain as the most likely locus of thought and it may only be an impression i have that my brain is NOT in a jar but i like being impressed.
canuckit
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2013
Politicians who lie to people to get elected (training voters to ideal outcome) have more chance to get elected.
Politicians who say the truth to get elected (training voters to actual outcome) have more chance to lose the election.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.