Decision Making in the Brain

Yasmin Sustaita, MVC writer

Decision making is one of those challenges everyone ends up running into. Whether it be just picking out what to wear, what to read or even in the more challenging decisions like what to major in, or job opportunities to take, decisions surround everyone. But what makes up decision making?

Decision making tends to be a nerve-racking process for many people, they have to sort through the outcomes of each decision, picking out both the pros and the cons. So, what is it that sorts through their examples of “right” and “wrong”? 

People tend to look through everything, in some cases too much. When considering what to eat, for example, most look to what they are craving, which makes for a simple and concise decision. However, when it comes to other decisions, especially very important ones, people often look through too many details. 

For example, someone is debating on if they want to go shopping with their friends, or maybe do their homework. Said person would look through the pros and cons of everything within both. For example, how they would do better in school if they do their homework, or a pro of staying in. Because of these thoughts, those people will spiral on and on about what it is they may miss if they hang out with their friends, such as how they may fail a big test the next day that they have to study for that night. This spiraling can cause issues such as stress that otherwise would have been avoided if too many details were not thought up or looked into. 

A way people can improve their decision making skills could be through “thin-slicing,” a term Malcolm Gladwell defines in his book “Blink.” Gladwell explains that thin-slicing is, in practicality, using as little information as possible to figure things out. 

Because people are prone to jumping to conclusions, like how if someone in a monotone voice or even a sort of tired or exhausted voice says something along the lines of “it’s fine,” instantly somewhere in the brain people may begin to think, “Are they upset?” 

This type of thinking leads the brain to spiral into a loop of trying to determine what it is they are seemingly upset about, which explains why one might spiral based on how the brain makes decisions. Thus if people used less information revolving around a situation, they wouldn’t have to deal with spiraling over things like what to eat.

People can use this quick method of checking out small details to figure out what they could say. For example, the way someone may quickly dart their eyes or wince after someone says something. To this reaction, most of the time people will recall this negative result, and decide most of the time not to repeat whatever it is they did that caused the negative result.

However, even decision making has its faults. Making a decision too soon by assumption can lead to injury or an unwanted outcome. Hopefully learning about how the brain processes decisions helps people realize when they are falling victim to their brains playing decision-making tricks on them.