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Electric shocks helped to understand people’s reactions to dangerous incentives

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Amit Kumar
Amit Kumar is editor-in-chief and founder of Revyuh Media. He has been ensuring journalistic quality and shaping the future of Revyuh.com - in terms of content, text, personnel and strategy. He also develops herself further, likes to learn new things and, as a trained mediator, considers communication and freedom to be essential in editorial cooperation. After studying and training at the Indian Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication He accompanied an ambitious Internet portal into the Afterlife and was editor of the Scroll Lib Foundation. After that He did public relations for the MNC's in India. Email: amit.kumar (at) revyuh (dot) com ICE : 00 91 (0) 99580 61723

Dangerous incentives attract a person’s attention no matter how confident they are that the stimulus will actually do some harm. This was discovered by British psychologists who conducted an experiment in which participants were taught to associate a specific image on the screen with electric shock.

The reaction to incentives is responsible for our interaction with the outside world. This reaction, in turn, depends on the type of stimulus itself, as well as on how much our perception field is distorted – not only by elements of upward perception (that is, any other external stimulation), but also by descending processes – existing ideas about what is happening.

Quite a lot is known about how attention is distributed during stimulation, which leads to some kind of reward. Potentially dangerous stimuli, in turn, are studied less frequently – largely because the reaction to them is more evolutionarily fundamental. In this case, of course, the same factors that influence the effect of reinforcing ones can influence the effects of dangerous stimuli.

Researchers led by Toby Wise of University College London decided to test how two factors influence the perception of a potentially dangerous stimulus: how much the stimulus is actually dangerous, and whether the person is sure of its potential harm. To do this, they conducted an experiment using an IT tracker: a total of 65 people took part in it. 

During the experiment, the participants were shown on the screen two different pictures, one of which was followed by a light electrical discharge: the probability of this event averaged from zero to 36 percent, while for one of the stimuli a stable probability was chosen, while for the other it was changed. At the beginning, the participants had to use the slider to determine the probability of electric shock for each of the stimuli, after which the real probability was shown on the screen, followed by an electric discharge. During the entire experiment, participants’ responses and their eye movements were recorded.

Scientists have built several computer models for the distribution of attention in a similar task based on reinforced learning and probability distribution. The behavior of participants and their eye movements was best described by a beta-regression model: researchers found that participants were significantly more likely (p <0.0001) to update the probability of getting an electric shock for any of the stimuli in response to a discharge, rather than safe condition. At the same time, the model used showed that the participants’ confidence that they would receive an electric shock did not affect their answers and the learning process. 

The researchers of the work came to the conclusion that a person will associate a dangerous outcome with any incentive, regardless of how confident he is that the dangerous outcome will actually occur. At the same time, the distribution of attention during training essentially strengthens it: a potentially dangerous stimulus attracts attention more, and then influences further choice.

Of course, other factors that were not taken into account in the constructed model can influence the perception of dangerous stimuli. For example, it can be stress: in 2017, scientists found that a stressful situation makes people lose their vigilance in a potentially dangerous situation.

Via | Journal

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