educated guess, guesses

Scientists Gain Insight Into How People Make “Lucky Guesses”

February 11, 2009 09:02 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
You might feel like you’re guessing when you answer some questions, but a new study suggests your guesses are more educated than you may think.

“Trust Your Instincts”

A study by neuroscientists Ken Paller and Joel Voss using memory and recognition tests helped them determine that some guesses are made with the help of subconscious memories.

Participants were tested on how well they remembered kaleidoscope images. The subjects were purposely distracted when viewing half of the images and allowed to pay full attention when looking at the other half. They were then quizzed on whether they had seen the particular images before, and asked if they truly remembered seeing the pictures or if they were just guessing.

Researchers found that the participants gave more accurate answers when they were guessing than when they felt confident about having seen an image before, according to Discover Magazine’s 80beats blog. They were also more accurate at remembering an image during the time they were distracted than when they were not.

In a LiveScience article, Paller explained that the “research showed that even when people weren’t paying as much attention, their visual system was storing information quite well.”

Voss and Paller’s work is another step toward answering whether implicit memory, which Ars Technica said “can influence your actions without your awareness of any mental activation,” could affect a person’s explicit memory. Explicit memory involves “active and conscious memory retrieval.”
“We may actually know more than we think we know in everyday situations, too,” Paller stated. “Unconscious memory may come into play, for example, in recognizing the face of a perpetrator of a crime or the correct answer on a test. Or the choice from a horde of consumer products may be driven by memories that are quite alive on an unconscious level.”

Related Topic: False memories

The brain may be great at retrieving memories people didn’t know they had, but it can make up a “false memory,” too, NPR reported in 2004. Paller and his colleagues used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to see what happens in people’s brains when they retrieve a real memory, compared with what happens when a false memory is created. The researchers suggested that the parts of the brain that remember real objects “overlap” with the parts that only imagine a particular object. The overlap likely makes it hard for the brain to distinguish between the real and the imagined.

Reference: Things we should know how to do


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