Australian neuroscientists were able to predict people’s choices 11 seconds before they made decisions

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Free will, that is, the ability of a person to make an informed choice, regardless of the circumstances, from the point of neurobiology can look quite predictable. In a new study, an article about which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, a group of Australian scientists from the University of New South Wales was able to prove that the brain makes a choice between the two alternatives long before a person has time to realize it. Summary and conclusions results of Quartz.

The study involved 14 volunteers, each of whom was placed in the apparatus for MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Before each person was given the task to look at two pictures: one with red horizontal lines, the other — with green vertical. Then the volunteers were asked to choose one of the pictures, limiting the decision-making time to 20 seconds. After making a choice, they had to press the appropriate button, and then within 10 seconds to try to mentally reproduce the image of the selected image as accurately as possible. Then scientists asked each person what exactly he presented and how bright was this image. People had to answer also by means of buttons.

All this time the brain activity of the participants of the experiment was scanned by a tomograph. Observations allowed scientists to track in the brain of volunteers patterns of activity that are responsible for making a decision, as well as to predict the decision that will take a person, 11 seconds before pressing the button. This result suggests that the brain makes a choice before a person can realize it, the researchers note.

The leading author of the study, Professor of cognitive neuroscience Joel Pearson says that this work shows that the rudiments of thoughts are formed first in the subconscious, and only then acquire a conscious form.

“We believe that when a person is faced with a choice of two or more alternatives to think about, the initial rudiments of thoughts are already in the subcortex of the subconscious and are something like unconscious hallucinations,” — said the researcher.

“As soon as our subconscious mind makes a choice about what to think about next, the Executive parts of the brain choose the variant of thought, whose signal is stronger than the others. In other words, if any subconscious activity finds a response in one of the proposed choices, the brain is likely to choose this option among the proposed alternatives, since its signal is already enhanced by subconscious activity.”

The results of this study contribute to understanding how negative thoughts appear in our brain, the researchers note. According to Pearson, his team’s research explains why some thoughts lead to us starting to think about something even more, which leads to even more thoughts on the subject. The thing is that at this point our “subconscious creates a loop of positive response to a particular thought.” The study also suggests that negative memories accompanied by visual images, such as those associated with post-traumatic disorder, arise in the form of unconscious thoughts.

This study is not the only one that shows that our thoughts can be predicted long before their conscious manifestation. In the framework of previous works conducted by other groups of neurobiologists, the same methodology, observations showed that it is possible to predict choices, to physical actions for 7-10 seconds, until the brain a conscious decision and for 4 seconds until the abstract to make informed decisions. The purpose of all these studies is to show how the brain is able to complicate the concept of free will.

Neuroscientists have long known that the brain is prepared in advance for mental activity even before you realize it. And the transition between when the thought becomes conscious and your perception of it takes only a few milliseconds. These milliseconds give us the opportunity to consciously reject the impulses that arise in the subconscious, thereby creating the basis for freedom of conscious choice.


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Updated: March 13, 2019 — 12:59 am

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