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Sandwiches and reward - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Sandwiches and reward [Oct. 28th, 2006|11:45 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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I've probably made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich more than a thousand times. Not one of those times did I spread the jelly before the peanut butter, even though the final product is independent of the order. Nor did I realize this until it was pointed out in my cognitive science class. Apparently, almost everyone always spreads the peanut butter first. And this is because in the phrase 'peanut butter and jelly sandwich', peanut butter comes first!

My interpretation of this is that humans are so pathetic at flipping mental coins that we grasp at any cues at all that the environment offers in order to avoid making arbitrary decisions that are not associated with reward. Reward is the key thing. Dopamine, the chemical that represents reward, appears to cause most conscious decision making to happen. The pervasive role of dopamine has recently become clear, and one of my lecturers has dubbed it the 'Neuro', a play on euro and neuro-, because dopamine is the 'currency' of the brain :)

To me this is a clinching argument for the fundamental greediness of human nature. Not only are we not motivated to act in the absence of (perceived) reward, we aren't even motivated to think!

Incidentally, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are one of the things that cause me to completely lose control. There may not be reward associated with the order in which a sandwich is made, but there is certainly a lot of reward associated with eating it :)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-28 06:15 pm (UTC)
Umm.. don't you spread the peanut butter and the jelly on different slices? How can the peanut butter hold the jelly away from the bread?
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-28 06:23 pm (UTC)
That's most interesting! Honestly, I've never seen anyone do that.

I assure you, though, that the sandwiches I make suffer from no shortage of calories, considering how thickly I spread the peanut butter ;^)
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[User Picture]From: bobacita
2006-10-28 10:52 pm (UTC)
I've spread the jelly first while making PB&J sandwiches. This is sometimes because I see the task of spreading peanut butter to be so arduous (especially when it's the chunky, not creamy, kind) that I seek the reward of the smoothly spread jelly first.
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[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2006-10-29 09:18 am (UTC)
my belief is that the jelly is a topping, the pb is thicker and clings to the bread... the jelly will spread over pb much more easily than the other way around...

but I have a secret: I love pb and cheez whiz sandwiches... LOL
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2006-10-30 04:00 am (UTC)
Interesting, indeed -and the comments, more so!
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-30 07:25 am (UTC)
The reward , being irrespective of the much-debated order , where do you think the role of dopamine figures in your argument ? Why would dopamine cause the latching of any particular order-decision if there is a definite reward for either of the cases?
-A
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-30 07:46 am (UTC)
The argument is that the brain has no mechanism to choose between two equally good alternatives (the differential of the reward is zero), and I claim this is because dopamine, the reward chemical, is essential for conscious decision making.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-30 09:00 am (UTC)
Yeah , agreed , dopamine is involved in conscious decision making , but are you trying to explain the choice of pb or jelly coming first using the biochemical processes involving dopamine?
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-30 09:04 am (UTC)
Yeah. I am a materialist, and believe that all human thought and emotion and all that crap can be explained by chemistry and biology.

I'm not sure if that was what was in doubt, or you're trying to point out some other gap in my argument.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-30 10:05 am (UTC)
oh no, i dont think you got my question. I am asking you , since dopamine is regarded as the reward chemical , as in , the dopamine signals are active in case of reward (in this case being the pb-jelly sandwich) , which happens irrespective of the order in which you apply pb and jelly. I am asking you , why do you associate the decision of the order to dopamine signalling , when it looks like , there would be a high dopamine level in the brain cells , even if i get my peanut butter sandwich by appplyng pb first or jelly first. In other words i am asking you , if you are able to solve the question of the order (pb-jelly) with the explanation of dopamine signalling or is it just an arbitrary decision made by the brain??
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