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A close friend, who is going through a mentally rough and disturbed period, just called me, and it made me come up with a question.

You call a close friend and someone picks up; but you're not sure from the voice whether it's your friend or someone with a similar voice, so your (sub)conscious faces a dilemma:

a) if it's a stranger I better not talk to them as a close friend because that could be embarrassing, so I should assume it's a stranger first and talk formally

b) if it's my friend, I better not talk to them formally as a stranger because that would be awkward, so I should assume it's my friend first and talk without façade

My question is: what, in the (sub)conscious, determines that choice for a given individual?

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You might want to look at some decision making literature. A nice and easy to understand theory is the Drift Diffusion model. This model works with binary decisions, and argues that "evidence", an subconscious representation of it, for either one of the options is accumulated over time. The option that accumulates enough evidence, i.e. when it exceeds a certain threshold, the quickest, is the option one chooses for. See also https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-alternative_forced_choice .

If you want to know more about it, you might also want to look at the Linear Ballistic Accumulater theory. That is a more recent theory of decision making and, perhaps, a more correct one.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking more along the lines of how mentally "healthy" vs mentally "unhealthy" people react in that situation $\endgroup$ – Erik Kaplun Apr 16 '16 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ Mentally healthy and unhealthy is a kind of broad distinction you want to make. I am no expert but I think a depressed person (if you call that mentally unhealthy) responds very different to someone with, say, down syndrome. But, I'll make a hypothesis within the model I explained. $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Apr 16 '16 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ re: "broad distinction" — hence the quotes. $\endgroup$ – Erik Kaplun Apr 16 '16 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ With your friend going through a rough patch, this might go hand in hand with a negatively affected self-confidence. This may bias one's beliefs to a negative outcome. This, in turn, may be represented as a negative ofset (negative evidence value), or a slower accumulation rate over time, for the positive outcome (a friend on the phone). Or, conversely, a positive ofset or higher accumulation rate for the negative outcome (a stranger on the phone). $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Apr 16 '16 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ OK, now the explanation is getting better for me $\endgroup$ – Erik Kaplun Apr 16 '16 at 13:54

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