Have you ever wondered how to tell if the decision someone is about to make is going to be good or bad? Dr. Peter Murphy wondered, and lo, his new study (published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology this September) finds that whether a decision will be good or bad can be predicted by the dilatation of that person’s pupils moments before they decide. If this sounds absurd to you, fear not because it gets better. Or weirder. I can’t tell.
Dr. Murphy and company took 26 people, which is arguably an excellent sample size, had them look at a series of moving dots, and then asked them which direction the dots were moving. Wait, is this a science experiment or a pre-school entrance examination? Sorry, back on track. What researchers discovered is that the people who performed poorly on the “test” had the largest pupils prior to giving a response. Let me get this straight, participants who responded incorrectly had larger pupils than those of the participants who responded correctly. But why were their pupils dilated? Drugs? Please say drugs. What even are dots, man?
It turns out, pupil size is closely related to arousal (but also drugs). The larger a person’s pupils the more aroused (or high) they are. By that train of logic, then, the more aroused (or high) a person is before making a decision or performing a task, the more likely they are to decide or perform poorly. Most good things, like arousal (and being high) are best in moderation: people who have low arousal (or no weed) are bored, people who are too aroused (WHY DID YOU SMOKE THAT MUCH!?) are too distracted. People who have found that delicious middle ground “oh, he smells good hey ohhhh” arousal (or a quick bowl before eating all the funyons and some icing straight from the container and then cleaning the bathroom) are on that Goldilocks stealing Baby Bear’s stuff mode – JUST RIGHT.
Tragically (although I guess it really depends on your definition of a tragedy), some people suffer (again, depends on your definition) from being too aroused – these people tend to consistently make the worst decisions overall. I can think of like a dozen people in my life that may actually be victims of this hyper-arousal phenomenon. Or maybe just on drugs. I’m not sure how to apply this new information in practical, real life settings. It is suggested that we take in subtle changes in pupils, breathing, temperature, and pheromones of those around us, but I’ve never really noticed that anyone made a bad decision until I saw the train wreck from the side lines. At any rate, I can instantly tell you that you’re about to make a real bad decision if you get in my face trying to see my pupils, so back up, buddy, and mind your business.