If you don’t let it in, you don’t have to get it out: Thought preemption as a method to control unwanted thoughts

21 July, 2022
Eran Eldar

Trying to stop thinking unwanted, often repetitive thoughts is a familiar experience. However, being aware of such attempts implies that the thought has already reached consciousness. Can we preempt an unwanted thought from coming to mind in the first place?

In a new study, Dr. Isaac Fradkin and Dr. Eran Eldar have examined this question using a free association task where people were instructed to avoid repeating associations. The study has shown that to meet the task, people principally reject and replace unwanted associations after they have already reached consciousness. Another prominent finding was that, in general, thinking and reporting a thought dramatically increases its strength, making it even more likely to be generated the future. However, people instructed to suppress repeated associations were able to partially avoid this self-reinforcing effect of thoughts. Thus, whereas people cannot completely avoid unwanted thoughts, this study suggests a novel mechanism allowing people to make sure unwanted thoughts do not become excessively repetitive.

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Physicians prescribe fewer analgesics during night shifts than day shifts

17 July, 2022
Dr Anat Perry

Adequate pain management is one of the biggest challenges of the modern healthcare system. Physician perception of patient subjective pain, which is crucial to pain management, is susceptible to a host of potential biases. Here we explore the timing of physicians’ work as a previously unrecognized source of systematic bias in pain management. We hypothesized that during night shifts, sleep deprivation, fatigue, and stress would reduce physicians’ empathy for others’ pain, leading to underprescription of analgesics for patient pain relief. In study 1, 67 resident physicians, either following a night shift or not, performed empathy for pain assessment tasks and simulated patient scenarios in laboratory conditions. As predicted, following a night shift, physicians showed reduced empathy for pain. In study 2, we explored this phenomenon in medical decisions in the field. We analyzed three emergency department datasets from Israel and the United States that included discharge notes of patients arriving with pain complaints during 2013 to 2020 (n = 13,482). Across all datasets, physicians were less likely to prescribe an analgesic during night shifts (compared to daytime shifts) and prescribed fewer analgesics than generally recommended by the World Health Organization. This effect remained significant after adjusting for patient, physician, type of complaint, and emergency department characteristics. Underprescription for pain during night shifts was particularly prominent for opioids. We conclude that night shift work is an important and previously unrecognized source of bias in pain management, likely stemming from impaired perception of pain. We consider the implications for hospitals and other organizations employing night shifts.

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Cognitive bias modification of inferential flexibility

5 July, 2022
Cognitive bias modification of inferential flexibility

Are things not going well right now? Having a bad day?

When people experience a negative life event, they tend to make causal inferences about the event. These inferred causes affect the way people experience events and respond to them. Over time, whereas some people revisit events and rethink about them, shift towards more adaptive inferences, others may stay stuck in their initial negative inference.

What if we could help people flexibly shift between negative causal inferences (e.g., ‘This happened because I’m a failure’) to more adaptive ones (e.g. ‘This was difficult and I’m not at my best at the moment’)?

A new paper by Dr. Baruch Perlman and Prof. Nilly Mor recently published in Behaviour Research and Therapy, is part of a series of papers from Baruch’s dissertation and describes the construction of a novel cognitive bias modification (CBM) procedure that targets inferential flexibility. The training procedure was successful in training participants towards greater inferential flexibility and resulted in decreased negative mood and state rumination. Taking their prior work in which training promoted a positive inferential style a step further, this paper discusses the unique contribution of a CBM procedure targeting flexibility as well as its challenges.

Link for the full paper:

Previous CBM papers:

Nilly Mor

Hierarchical inference as a source of human biases

26 June, 2022
Eran Eldar

It is common to think of human biases as resulting from limited cognitive resources. This idea has had immense influence on research, public policy, and popular culture, and it is no doubt correct in some cases. But it misses the fact that reaching biased judgments often requires integrating more, not less, information. What typically happens is that people are asked to use only a specific set of facts to form their judgments, but instead they also consider various contextual factors, such as how a question was framed or what was their emotional state at the time. Although this means they are taking into account information the experimenter may not have considered to be relevant, Paul Sharp and Isaac Fradkin from Eran Eldar’s lab demonstrate how this more complex form of inference can produce “rationally biased” judgements that benefit decision making in many contexts.

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