Scientists have discovered a way to boost confidence in people by combining the use of artificial intelligence and brain imaging technology, an advance that may have important applications in clinical, medical and social settings.
Self-confidence is an essential quality to succeed in the world, such as in business environments, politics or many other aspects of our everyday life, researchers said.
Confidence is an important aspect in mental illnesses such as depression and Alzheimers disease, where the condition is often further complicated by patients thinking negatively of their own capacities.
Recent advances in neuroscience have highlighted the plasticity of the brain, indicating it is malleable even later in life. An international team, including researchers from Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) in Japan, developed a state-of-the-art method to read and then amplify a high confidence state using a new technique called Decoded Neurofeedback.
This technique used brain scanning to monitor and detect the occurrence of specific complex patterns of activity corresponding to high confidence states, while participants performed a simple perceptual task.In the training sessions, whenever the pattern of high confidence was detected, participants received a small monetary reward.
This experiment allowed researchers to directly boost ones own confidence unconsciously, i.e. participants were unaware that such manipulation took place.Importantly, the effect could be reversed as confidence could also be decreased.
"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," said Mitsuo Kawato from ATR.
"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, their were consistently more confident," said Aurelio Cortese from ATR.
"Crucially, in this study confidence was measured quantitatively via rigorous psychophysics, making sure the effects were not just a change of mood or simple reporting strategy," said Hakwan Lau, Associate Professor at University of California Los Angeles in the US.
"Such changes in confidence took place even though the participants performed the relevant task at the same performance level," said Lau.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.