Marth's Anime Blog


Talking about Orange and how our brain makes decisions


This entire post goes over something that happened in episode 11 of Orange. It's really not new information if you've gotten past episode 8 or so, but fair warning?

So, a lot of drama and stuff happened in the recent episode of Orange, but I found myself focusing on one specific line in the episode. In the future, Naho makes the statement that she would have married Suwa even if Kakeru hadn't died. While this is probably true (given the trajectory of the series), the line reminded me of something I read recently about how our mind makes decisions.

There are actually some cool studies that demonstrate that, when given a tough decision, the human brain will rationalize the option we end up choosing, regardless of how close the decision seems in our head. The idea is that your brain attempts to reduce "cognitive dissonance", or mental discomfort, by coming up with reasons to validate your decisions. It's kinda like when you're on a diet and say "I'll make up this burger with exercise later". So, I ended up finding Naho's statement to be pretty hollow.

Science stuff: A study took two groups of photography students and gave them a choice between two photos. One group was told that they would have the option of exchanging their chosen photo for the other in a few days if they changed their mind. The other group was told that their decision was final. All of the students were asked to rate their chosen photo at the time of choice and after a few days had passed, with some of the students being asked to also guess what their future rating of their photo would be.

The study found that the group that was told they could not exchange the photos rated their chosen photo higher after their decision was made, an increase in scores much higher than the group that was given the option to exchange the photos. The study also indicated that the students that were asked to guess their future rating were wrong in both groups (the ones who could exchange and the ones who couldn't).

Basically, the idea isn't just that we rationalize our decisions, but also that we're terrible at predicting our future mental state after making a decision. Coming back to Naho...not only do I find her statement itself problematic, but I also think it's silly for her to even think she could make that statement. How could she know how her life would be different if the circumstances weren't the same?

Now, being the healthy skeptic that I am, I have to give my caveats (it's only fair). The study I described has a fairly low sample size and the sample was from a single group of people. It just has the distinction of being the one that introduced me to the topic, so I chose to use it as an example. I'm also going to link a couple of more studies I found below with a similar result, one done on a sample size of 225 students and another that included an fMRI analysis (to give more explanation of the neurological basis).

As an additional caveat, I want to point out that I'm aware that regrets exist and I'm sure we've all had experience with questioning our past decisions. I'm just saying that we shouldn't be so quick to trust our own judgment. There's a lot going on under the surface. But anyway, that was me nerding out on neuroscience for a bit. Hope you guys enjoyed it. I haven't had the most fun watching Orange, but at least it makes me think about cool stuff. I have to give it that.



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