Boosting Confidence By Manipulating the Brain

Self-confidence can be enhanced through the manipulation of brain activity, says a new study published in Nature Communications.

Curing Depression By Boosting Self-Confidence?

Without self-confidence, we will most likely not succeed in our endeavours. It is, indeed, a fundamental trait to be developed so that we can bring to fruition what we set out to do in the world. It is even more critically important now, given that mental illnesses like depression have found their way deep into the very fabric of our societies. Furthermore, confidence plays a pivotal role in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Perhaps, we could combat these illnesses by tacking self-confidence through the brain itself?

Manipulating Confidence Level With Monetary Reward

The new study explores how self-confidence can be amplified when the brain is stimulated. The team of researchers produced a state-of-the-art technique to detect and magnify a state of high confidence in participants. This system, based on a procedure called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’, initiates brain scanning in volunteers carrying out perceptual tasks to identify specific activity patterns that indicate high confidence states. Upon finding the sequence corresponding to high confidence, the researchers would give the participants a monetary reward, without the latter knowing that their confidence was being directly boosted (unconsciously manipulated).

“How is confidence represented in the brain? Although this is a very complex question, we used approaches drawn from artificial intelligence (AI) to find specific patterns in the brain that could reliably tell us when a participant was in a high or low confidence state. The core challenge was then to use this information in real-time, to make the occurrence of a confident state more likely to happen in the future,” says one of the authors of the study, Dr. Mitsuo Kawato, Director of the Computational Neuroscience Laboratories at ATR, Kyoto. Dr Kawato is a pioneer of this state-of-the-art procedure.

“Surprisingly, by continuously pairing the occurrence of the highly confident state with a reward – a small amount of money – in real-time, we were able to do just that: when participants had to rate their confidence in the perceptual task at the end of the training, they were consistently more confident”, explains lead-author, Dr. Aurelio Cortese, from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Kyoto.

Next Step: Developing Treatment Methods

These findings support previous ones based on similar scientific investigations; Dr Cortese’s team is now using these results to develop clinical treatment for a number of psychiatric conditions.

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