Neurophysiological insights into sequential decision-making: exploring the secretary problem through ERPs and TBR dynamics

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Decision-making under uncertainty, a cornerstone of human cognition, is encapsulated by the “secretary problem” in optimal stopping theory. Our study examines this decision-making challenge, where participants are required to sequentially evaluate and make irreversible choices under conditions that simulate cognitive overload. We probed neurophysiological responses by engaging 27 students in a secretary problem simulation while undergoing EEG monitoring, focusing on Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) P200 and P400, and Theta to Beta Ratio (TBR) dynamics. Results revealed a nuanced pattern: the P200 component’s amplitude declined from the initial to the middle offers, suggesting a diminishing attention span as participants grew accustomed to the task. This attenuation reversed at the final offer, indicating a heightened cognitive processing as the task concluded. In contrast, the P400 component’s amplitude peaked at the middle offer, hinting at increased cognitive evaluation, and tapered off at the final decision. Additionally, TBR dynamics illustrated a fluctuation in attentional control and emotional regulation throughout the decision-making sequence, enhancing our understanding of the cognitive strategies employed. The research elucidates the dynamic interplay of cognitive processes in high-stakes environments, with neurophysiological markers fluctuating significantly as participants navigated sequential choices. By correlating these fluctuations with decision-making behavior, we provide insights into the evolving strategies from heightened alertness to strategic evaluation. Our findings offer insights that could inform the use of neurophysiological data in the development of decision-making frameworks, potentially contributing to the practical application of cognitive research in real-life contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number245
JournalBMC psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Cognitive strategies
  • ERP (event-Related potentials)
  • Neurophysiology
  • Sequential decision-making
  • TBR (Theta to Beta ratio) dynamics

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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