This article is from the WeChat public account: Neural Reality (ID: Neurality) , author: Nicoletta Lanes, cover: Matt Chinworth

In the world of quantum theory, Schrödinger’s cat is in a superimposed state of life and death, and two particles can “talk to each other” even outside light years. Through quantum theory, we may truly understand the most mysterious phenomenon in the world: human behavior.

Quantum mechanics and psychology are probably two seemingly unrelated fields. Recently, however, scientists believe that there may be some interesting correlations between these two fields: the purpose of these theories is to predict the future performance of seemingly random systems. They differ in that one field aims to understand the nature of the world through physical particles, and the other is to understand human nature (and its underlying flaws) from a cognitive level.

Zhang Xiaochu, a biophysical and neuroscientist from the University of Science and Technology of China, said, “Cognitive scientists believe that there are many manifestations of” contrary to reason “in human behavior. Classical decision theory is often used to predict whether people will make reasonable choices based on some given parameters, but these predictions often fail due to the “irrational” tendency of humans. And Zhang Xiaochu believes that “quantum probability theory can explain well” this kind of logical error.

— Matt Chinworth

Zhang Xiaochu is an advocate of quantum cognition (quantum cognition) . In a study published in the journal Nature-Human Behavior on January 20, he and his team explored whether psychologists could better predict human behavioral decisions by drawing on quantum theory. In this study, they involved participants in a classic psychological task. In this task, people need to make some decisions. At the same time, researchers are also testing participants’ brain activity: their brain imaging results suggest that parts of the brain may be similar to this “quantum-like” (quantum -like) .

Zhang Xiaochu said: “This is the first study to support quantum cognition at the neurological level.”

It’s cool, but what does it mean?


The theory of quantum mechanics describes the activities of the atoms and subatomic components of the tiny particles that make up everything in the universe. A central principle of this theory is the uncertainty of the microworld (uncertainty ). In contrast, in the macro world, the occurrence of objective events is mostly definite. For example, in the macro world, if we know where and how fast a train is traveling on its track, based on these data, we can calculate when the train will arrive at the next platform. If the data is accurate and reliable, this prediction result will be reliable and it will not be affected by uncertainty.

When we turn to electronic activity, the situation is completely different-we cannot know the exact position of an electron and its momentum, but we can calculate the probability that it will appear at a certain rate at a certain position. Sex. In this way, we can vaguely predict the future activity of the electron.

Uncertainty is not only pervasive in the micro world, it also permeates our decision-making process: from deciding what serials should be brushed up to choosing which presidential candidate to vote for, uncertainty is everywhere. From this perspective, compared to classical theory of mind, quantum mechanicsIts theory of tolerance for uncertainty may be more suitable for predicting people’s decisions.

— Matt Chinworth

Classical theory of mind holds that People make decisions in order to maximize the “reward” and minimize the “penalty” -In other words, people make decisions to get more positive Results and fewer negative consequences. Psychologists call this process “reinforcement learning (reinforcement learning) “, published in 2009 in Mathematical Psychology (Journal of Mathematical Psychology) research, reinforcement learning is inherited from Pavlov’s conditioned reflection. Both believe that people can treat themselves by summing up their past experience. Make predictions about the outcome of the action.

If the theoretical framework of reinforcement learning really holds, people should consistently make decisions based on the objective value of the two choices. However, in real life, people’s behavioral decisions are not always the same: people’s subjective feelings often influence their ability to make decisions.

Schrodinger’s Coin

Let’s imagine an example: imagine you are playing a coin flip game. If the coin landed on the front, you can get two hundred yuan, and the land on the back, you will lose a hundred dollars. You can choose to play only one round or two rounds. Published in “Cognitive Psychology” (Cognitive Psychology) shows that in this scenario, people often choose to play another game regardless of the outcome of the first game. The winner’s choice to toss a second coin may be because they will win regardless of the outcome of the second round, and the loser continues to reduce losses. However, if players do not know the result of the first round, they rarely choose to throw a second time.

When the results of a round are known, no matter what the results are, people mostly choose to continue. But without knowing the results of the first round, this decision-making tendency changed dramatically. Such a seemingly unreasonable behavior change is contrary to the traditional theory of reinforcement learning-the predictions of this theory are followed, and the objective choice should not change with the change of situation. However, based on the uncertainty in its theory, quantum mechanics can predict such a strange result very well.

Quantum Social Science (Quantum Social Science) (Oxford University Press, 2013) Co-author Iman Haven (Emmanuel Haven) and Andrei Herrenikov (Andrei Khrennikov) believes that “we can understand this: the core of applying the” quantum model “to decision-making is to apply the quantum probability (quantum probability) Referenced to the cognitive domain. ”

— Matt Chinworth

According to the theory of quantum mechanics, just as an electron may be in two places at the same time at the same time, the first round of coin tossingThe result may be in two states, “front-facing” and “back-landing”. (You can learn from the famous thought experiment here: Schrödinger’s cat may be living and dying at the same time. Superimposed state) . When a round of results is in such a fuzzy “superimposed state”, the final choice of players will become unpredictable. At the same time, quantum mechanics theory also believes that the expected consequences of people’s choices are often reflected in their final decisions. In other words, people’s expectations and their final decision are interactive effects, or “entangled” with each other (referring to the theory of quantum entanglement) .

Even two subatomic particles that are far apart may be entangled and affect each other. For example, measuring the behavior of a particle located in Japan may affect the behavior of the particle’s entangled object currently in the United States. By analogy to psychology, this kind of “entanglement” may occur between beliefs (beliefs) and behaviors (behaviors) between . According to Haven and Herenikov, “it is precisely this ‘entanglement’ that affects the ultimate behavioral response.” The behavioral response in this sentence is the decision of each player. “And through quantum probability, we can simulate this entanglement into our prediction model.”

According to a report published in 2007 by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Quantum Games

Zhang Xiaochu’s team compared the performance of two quantum models with twelve traditional mental models in predicting decision behavior in their new study. In the study they used the Iowa game task (Iowa Gambling Task) , which can detect that people adjust their choices based on wrong experience Ability of strategy .

In this mission, players will be asked to draw cards from a quad deck. The numbers on the board indicate that the player will win or lose money. The player’s task is to win as much money as possible. The mechanics of this game are the layout of the cards in each deck. The stack of cards in this stack has a larger winning card, but the overall losers are more: draw from this stack of cards, players will win a lot of money in the short term, but in the long run, this kind of cards The strategy will make the player lose more at the end of the game; the number of winning cards in the remaining three stacks is smaller, but the number of losing cards is also less. As the game progresses, the final winner gradually learns to draw from the remaining three stacks of “steady and steady play”, and the loser always draws from the stack of cards that can win short-term.

In previous studies, drug addicts and patients with brain damage had always performed worse than healthy people on Iowa game tasks. A 2014 study published in (Applied Neuropsychology: Child) of Applied Neurology: Children emphasizes that special groups Poor performance in the task may be related to their impaired decision-making ability. Zhang Xiaochu’s study recruited nearly sixty healthy subjects and forty nicotine smokers. The results of the study also confirmed this conclusion.

Matt Chinworth

In this study, the performance of the prediction model of the quantum model is similar to that of the best model in the traditional model. But Zhang Xiaochu believes that “though our quantum model is not significantly better than the traditional model…… We should recognize the reality that the theory of quantum reinforcement learning is still in the midst, and we need more research to improve this theoretical framework.

To further advance the value of the research, the research team scanned their brains with fMRI brain imaging technology while completing the Iowa game task. The purpose of this is to reveal what changes have occurred in the subject’s brain when learning and adjusting game strategies. Because the quantum model can predict behavioral results well, researchers believe that the model may also predict brain imaging results in the study.

Brain imaging did successfully predict some brain regions activated by healthy subjects during the game, including nerve folds in the prefrontal lobe that are relevant to decision-making. In the brain imaging of subjects in the smoking group, the activated brain regions differed from the predictions of the quantum model. Researchers believe that because the model reflects the ability of the subjects to learn based on the wrong experience,

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This article is from WeChat public account: nerve reality (ID: neureality) , author: Nicoletta Lanes, cover: Matt Chinworth