The purpose of the current research is to explore the manifestations of attention, perception and decision-making under the experimental conditions of time-constrained choice as a model of economic decision-making, and to identify on this basis the characteristics of brain activity associated with correct and erroneous decisions.
In the course of the current research we carried out recording and analysis of electroencephalographic and polygraphic data during the subjects’ performance of the task of routine activity with moderately high cognitive load, which was developed in our previous studies as a simulation of a decision-making situation in professional activities. We also conducted recording and analysis of magnetoencephalographic data during the subjects' performance of the experimental task of integral contour identification based on the Kanizsa illusion. During the experiments, the subjects completed questionnaires to identify their individual-typological properties and their current state; at the end of the experiments they underwent the procedure of a post-experimental structured interview. The experiments involved 110 subjects totally. The experimental data were processed using modern statistical methods, including variance and correlation analysis, permutation methods, statistical parametric mapping, the method of maximum clusters, etc.
In the course of the current research, the following principal results were obtained.
We studied the physiological mechanisms of spontaneous errors during performance of routine activities with moderately high cognitive load simulating decision making in professional activities. We found that under these conditions the subjects who understood the task rules well and were not limited by any physical difficulties in stimuli discrimination still made mistakes, despite the absence of any explicit distracting task.
For the first time in the literature we have shown that before spontaneous attentional failures (wrong decisions or omissions of a decision) the component of the auditory evoked potential P2 undergoes an increase, associated with attention distraction. This effect indicates the premature suppression of information processing, which compromises the upcoming decision.
According to the results obtained, the spontaneous attentional failures are not associated with any decrease in the level of arousal or with fatigue. Moreover, they indicate an increase in arousal level before failures in decision making. In this light the most probable cause of spontaneous failures in the task performance is the competition for cognitive resources with so-called "mind-wandering". These results are new, and they open up a new area of research on decision-making in the context of neuroeconomics.
Analysis of individual-typological properties and individual strategies during the task of routine activity with moderately high cognitive load allowed us to distinguish two groups of subjects with two fundamentally different predominant causes of spontaneous attentional failures: with an increase in the level of arousal and without such an increase. Accordingly, in these groups different physiological manifestations of attentional failures and different types of reduction in the effectiveness of decision making were revealed (predominance of omissions or predominance of errors). The results obtained are new and hint at the importance of an individual-typological approach to the study of the causes of errors in decision-making.
Identification of coherent objects based on the conjunction of pieces of information is a critical aspect of the early stages of the automated information analysis precedings decision making. Within this aspect we carried out a study of localization and dynamics of brain activation related to the perception of illusory contours.
For the first time in the literature we found in adult subjects an early inverted illusory contour effect within the time range of 50 to 100 ms. We described the dynamics of the involvement of areas belonging to the dorsal and ventral streams of visual information processing in the perception of illusory contours. Particularly, we have shown activation of lower parietal and parietal-temporal areas during the perception of large coherent stimuli – a fact that indicates the involvement of the spatial attention processes in the perception of coherent objects.
The results of the current research allow us to expand the fundamental knowledge of brain mechanisms involved in cognitive processing. The methodology developed and the results obtained within the current research open a new direction for psychophysiological research on the effectiveness of decision making. The current research for the first time identified and described essential components of cognitive mechanisms of information processing, controlled by attention, within a succession of processes from perception to decision making.
The topic of the current research has high practical importance, since occasional errors during professional decision making can bring significant economic damage. In addition, routine activities under time-constrained conditions frequently lead to stress, depression and other negative consequences that can cause deterioration in a person's health and working ability. The results of the current research may gain practical applications in the fields of psycho-diagnostics and occupational selection.