Humans are ‘hard-wired’ to pick the easiest path possible

LONDON — It’s not that we’re lazy, we’re just “hard-wired” this way. That’s according to study that finds humans naturally pick the path of least resistance when it comes to making decisions.

The study, published in the journal eLife, was conducted by researchers at the University College London, before moving to the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Japan. Fifty-two participants went through a series of testing where they had to determine whether a group of dots on a screen was moving either left or right. They indicated “left” or “right” by moving one of two levers, in either their left or right hand.

Without telling the participants, the researchers began to gradually add weight to the levers. When one side got heavier, the researchers found that the participants were more likely to choose the other. The participants never became aware that weight was being added and taken away.

“The tendency to avoid the effortful decision remained even when we asked people to switch to expressing their decision verbally, instead of pushing on the handles,” says co-author Dr. Nobuhiru Hagura in a UCL release. “The gradual change in the effort of responding caused a change in how the brain interpreted the visual input. Importantly, this change happened automatically, without any awareness or deliberate strategy… The motor response that we use to report our decisions can actually influence the decision about what we have seen”.

The researchers note that this strategy is deliberately used by governments in order to change how the public perceives a situation. “The idea of ‘implicit nudge’ is currently popular with governments and advertisers,” says professor Patrick Haggard, of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “Our results suggest these methods could go beyond changing how people behave, and actually change the way the world looks.”