A relatively new area of neuroscience, decision neuroscience, explores exactly what happens within the brain in order for a person to form a decision. It delves into not only how people make decisions, but also how they learn to value of the information they receive in order to make the decision. Haven’t you ever wondered how you can to the decision you did, or why you chose one thing over another? This area of neuroscience does just that.

In the last decade, research in this area of the brain has really taken off. Scientists scramble to unravel the intricate workings of the mind in order to understand the process it goes through in order to allow a person to make a decision. It also looks into the reasons why some people continue to make the same decisions over and over again, even if that decision is wrong.

Recently studies have concentrated on the functions of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that processes complex cognitive skills, behavior and social skills. They also are looking at the parietal lobes, the area pinpointed as the center for processing information through the senses. Both of these systems are part of the midbrain dopamine system. Other researchers are focused on different phases of the lifespan of an individual and how decisions are made based on relativity to age, social standing and environment.

Early studies suggest that complex thinking can be broken down into smaller components, which will help researchers in determining how each area of the brain works with others to make a decision. This work may be able to help understand the workings of the brain in mental illness, depression and schizophrenia.

“For many psychiatric disorders, patients that are symptomatic are frequently making poor decisions about numerous things throughout the day, such as how they handle their anxiety and other emotional states,” said C. Daniel Salzman, MD, PhD., Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University School of Medicine. “If you’ve ever had a friend or family member with depression, you can see they are not making decisions the way they normally do. So there clearly has to be dysfunction in the neurocircuits of psychiatric patients affecting their decisions, and we need to understand this better in order to come up with better treatments for mental disorders.”

As pointed out by another participant in the dialogue, this research is already deepening understanding of these disorders. “Our new knowledge about the cellular and circuit mechanisms of working memory and decision processes in the brain has already had a significant impact on clinical studies of mental illness,” said Xiao-Jing Wang, PhD., Department of Neurobiology at the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine. “For instance, addiction is fundamentally a problem of making bad choices, resulting from impaired reward signaling and decision-making circuits in the brain. Understanding these circuits has become key to linking genes and molecules with behavior in clinical studies.”

“It can explain a lot of problems in our society, including differences in the tendency to develop psychiatric illnesses,” stated Wang.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion.




Medical News Today – Deciphering How The Brain Chooses And Decides – The Neuroscience Of Decision Making: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/234511.php

Stanford University – Decision Neuroscience Laboratory: http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~dnl/

University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana – Executive Control and the Prefrontal Cortex: http://www.decisionneurosciencelab.org/projects/prefrontal_cortex.html