Buridan's donkey: Neuroscience resolves medieveal decision-making conundrum

Buridan's donkey: Neuroscience resolves medieveal decision-making conundrum
The incentivised free-choice task consisted of four consecutive phases: valuation phase 1, decision phase 1, valuation phase 2, decision phase 2. This task was followed by a choice memory task. Credit: Voigt et al., JNeurosci (2018)

The brain updates its preferences in real-time in order to choose between two equally attractive options, reveals a human neuroimaging and eye-tracking study published in JNeurosci. The research shows how we avoid becoming paralyzed by indecision like the starving donkey in a famous thought experiment.

In the 14th century the French philosopher Jean Buridan described a donkey that, unable to choose between two bales of hay, starves to death. Like the fictional donkey, people often must decide between two items of equal value. Previous studies have suggested people update their preferences after the fact in order to feel more confident in their decision.

Stefan Bode, Katharina Voigt, and colleagues tested an alternative hypothesis: actively shape one's preferences. The researchers found when faced with a choice between two desirable snack foods, participants activated a brain network that assigns values to different options during the decision-making process. This —in addition to which snack participants' eyes focused on—predicted how they would later reevaluate the items, valuing the chosen snack more than the unchosen one. These findings challenge traditional views of the relationship between decisions and preferences.


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More information: JNeurosci (2018). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1681-18.2018
Provided by Society for Neuroscience
Citation: Buridan's donkey: Neuroscience resolves medieveal decision-making conundrum (2018, December 10) retrieved 17 January 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-12-buridan-donkey-neuroscience-medieveal-decision-making.html
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Dec 10, 2018
A real donkey would not starve to death. Firstly, it would turn its head to get a better look at the hay. This will make that bail closer.

Secondly, in evaluating the hay the donkey is more likely to adjudge it by taste than sight so it will wander over to one at random and eat some, then wonder over to the other one and eat some. If they are identical it will vacillate between the two and so eventually eat both of them. You can see this behaviour in the paddock as all the grass is much the same but they wander around sampling grass from place to place. This also gives the grass the best chance to recover from being eaten: evolution may be involved...

City based academics should avoid farmyard philosophising...

Dec 11, 2018
You can see this behaviour in the paddock as all the grass is much the same but they wander around sampling grass from place to place. This also gives the grass the best chance to recover from being eaten: evolution may be involved...

I'm not sure where you're from but where I grew up raising horses and cattle, unless the paddock has been deliberately planted with one kind of grass and then sprayed with the necessary herbicides, it will grow many kinds of plants (weeds) as the seeds of these plants are consumed in the various kinds of hay fed the animals and then germinate. This is even more true in a pasture. In a pasture both horses and cattle will often be very picky about what they eat, sometimes not picky enough and will poison themselves; if they get into corn they can founder.
Undesirable plants are also cycled through agricultural fields when the manure of animals that eat the seeds is annually spread as fertilizer.
But I do agree that the donkey wouldn't starve.

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