Ben Franklin famously pronounced, “Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.” The researchers at Vanderbilt University investigated this noted dictum that we all encounter on a daily basis. So does our brain make more mistakes when we act quickly?
Till date, conducting experiments on humans have led to ambiguous results. To derive a accurate conclusion, the researchers at Vanderbilt University developed a method for teaching monkeys to switch back and forth between fast and accurate decision.The task involved picking out a target from an array of objects presented on a computer screen. In one experimental condition, monkeys learned that only accurate responses would be rewarded. In another condition, they learned that making some mistakes was okay, as long as the decisions were fast. Meanwhile, the researchers monitored signals from single neurons in their prefrontal cortex – the area in the brain dedicated to higher cognition.
During the high-speed decision making activity, the activity of the prefrontal cortex neurons increases where as during an activity that requires the decision to be accurate the activity of the prefrontal cortex neurons decreases.
The observation defies everything we thought we knew about decision-making. Identical information presented to the brain is analysed differently under speed stress than under accuracy stress. It goes against the previous belief that the brain uses the same basic method to make both deliberate and rapid decisions.
For example, people with certain types of brain damage seem to get stuck in a hasty, impulsive mode of deciding, and the results provide some indication for how this might happen mechanically in the brain.
So, does haste inevitably make waste? It all depends, the scientists claim. Haste makes waste when a mistake entails dire consequences. But there are many situations in life when the cost of not acting is higher than making an error in judgement. For example, if the decision is whether or not to shut down a nuclear reactor in the presence of a potential meltdown, you should prefer haste.