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Media Tip Sheet: Making the Call and Giving Out the Gold: How Our Brains Judge Value in an Instant

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Figure Skating


How do Olympic judges distinguish, in just a split second, a gold medal-winning performance from a silver?


Credit: iStock

As the Winter Olympics begin, the world will be marveling at feats performed by athletes at the top of their game. But how do judges distinguish, in just a split second, a gold medal-winning performance from a silver?

Neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins recently found that almost as soon as we identify an object, we assign value to it. This happens in just 80 milliseconds—less than a 10th of a second—after seeing something. You don’t have to be a highly trained Olympic judge to accomplish this feat. Ed Connor, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and director of the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, believes that everyone makes these lightning-quick judgments in their everyday lives.

“Recognizing objects isn’t the whole story of vision,” Connor says. “We need to instantly evaluate and understand things in the world to form fast, appropriate behavioral responses.”

The research team also identified where in the brain this value processing begins.

Connor is available for interviews on the speed of value judgements. Please contact Rachel Butch ([email protected]) or Jill Rosen to schedule.

Want more information on Olympic decision-making? See the Mind of a Medalist.

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