How Humans Predict the Behavior of People with Different Values

To live in society, we must predict how other people will make decisions. Japanese scientists are beginning to reveal how the brain does that, potentially improving our social systems. 

What's the Latest Development?

In our everyday personal and professional lives, it is essential that we predict what decisions others will make and how they will behave. Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have uncovered the brain processes by which humans learn to understand the values of others and use this information to predict their decision-making behavior. Using fMRI scans, researchers found that "humans simulate the decisions of other people using two brain signals encoded in the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for higher cognition."

What's the Big Idea?

"Learning another person's values and mental processes is often assumed to require simulation of the other's mind: using one's own familiar mental processes to simulate unfamiliar processes in the mind of the other." For individuals with values similar to our own, the brain fires a "reward signal" that allows us to simulate another's mind. For individuals with different values, a separate "action signal" is necessary, which allows us to translate the simulation into a projected outcome. "Ultimately, this knowledge could help improving political, educational, and social systems in human societies."

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