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[Share] When faced with tough choices, your brain secretly tips the scales. Why choosing between popcorn and Pringles doesn't paralyze us all.

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First impressions may randomly influence some preferences.
▼ We’ve all been there—wandering the aisles of 7-eleven trying to pick out the perfect late night snack. Do you want something sweet or salty? Are you hungry enough to risk a hot dog?
You might assume that your likes and dislikes guide such choices (I’m a fan of savory snacks, so I’ll always go for chips over chocolate), and they do—to a point. But that system of decision making breaks down in the face of two equally appealing options, like pretzel sticks or pretzel nuggets. In these cases, your mental machinery actually modifies how you feel about one item, making sporadic changes to your preferences that can linger over time, according to researchrecently published in theJournal of Neuroscience. The work reveals a previously unknown step in the decision-making process that challenges conventional wisdom.
“Of course our preferences drive choices,” says Katharina Voigt, a neuroscientist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and paper author, “but it's also the other way around.”
Voigt’s inspiration came from a 14th-century paradox known as Buridan’s ass, which posits that a perfectly rational donkey picking between two identical bales of hay would die of starvation due to indecision. Few of us in the real world suffer such paralyzing indecisiveness, suggesting that our brains have some way of breaking a tie between similarly compelling options.
Previous research has clearly shown that people come to feel satisfied with most decisions after the fact, but this study focused on what goes on in our heads at the moment of choice.
One of the trickiest parts, Voigt says, was accurately measuring how much the 22 participants wanted certain foods. People have a hard time honestly reporting their preferences in studies, so the researchers set up as realistic a scenario as possible. After selecting nearly three hundred snacks they knew the Australian public would recognize, such as Mars bars, Snickers, and fruit, they starved the participants for four hours to make sure they were hungry and gave them each 4 Australian dollars (about 3 USD). Then, through an auction system, they let the peckish snackers bid on each food item, using those bids to measure their preferences.
Once the researchers knew how much each person liked each item, (▪ ▪ ▪)

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