London, Aug 28 : The next time a guy asks you out, don't turn him down if your gut feeling says 'he's the one', for the chances are that the subconscious may be right.
That's the conclusion of a new study, which says that the human brain picks up on subliminal signals when making risky decisions.
"When you think that you are referring to your intuition, actually you just learn an association between subliminal signals in your context and the outcome of your actions," New Scientist quoted Mathias Pessiglione, a neuroscientist at the Centre for Neuroimaging Research in Paris, France, who led the study, as saying.
Doctors and gamblers may be used to trusting their instincts in make-or-break situations, but scientists have had a tough time proving that the brain can learn subconsciously.
To uncover this ability, Pessiglione and colleague Chris Frith, of University College London, tested 20 volunteers with a simple game based on winning and losing small amounts of money.
On a computer screen, the volunteers watched an animated abstract pattern for a few seconds, which included one of three symbols part way through.
Unbeknownst to the subjects, the symbols indicated whether they would lose or gain 1 pounds or break even if they accepted the gamble.
"You just see some flickering pattern," Pessiglione said.
Volunteers then had three seconds to decide whether to take the bet.
"We just told the subjects to follow their intuition or gut feeling," he said.
Surprisingly, subjects got better at predicting whether they would win or not, eventually plateauing at slightly above chance, strong evidence that volunteers do not consciously notice the symbols but are affected by them nonetheless.
"If you are conscious, you win much more money, but you can still win money if you cannot consciously perceive the cues," Pessiglione said.
Under a functional-MRI brain scanner, the researchers found that the subjects appeared to be basing their subconscious choices on activity in an area of their brains involved in conscious risk-taking - the striatum. During the game, a part of the brain involved in processing vision lit up, but only after the activity in the striatum. Pessiglione hypothesizes that the striatum tells the vision-processing part of the brain how to pick up on the subliminal symbols linked to winning and losing.
The study is published in the journal Neuron.