You make so many decisions a day, it’s kind of crazy. You make the decision of what to eat for lunch, for instance. You…
You make so many decisions a day, it’s kind of crazy. You make the decision of what to eat for lunch, for instance. You make the decision of which cereal to buy at the store. You make the decision to merge into the right lane or stay in the lane you are in. You make the decision to clip your nails, or you make the decision to grow them out a little further. You make the decision to make your partner coffee while you are making your own. Every single day of your life is comprised of a thousand little decisions that add up to something.
The thing is, you probably only think about decisions when you wonder if you are making the right one.
Am I making the right choice?
Is this the right car for me?
Should I rent this apartment?
Should I ask that cute barista out?
You eventually come to a decision, and it can be wrong, or it can be right. There is no guarantee that whatever decision you come to will lead to the outcome that you want. If the barista turns you down, you’ll be embarassed but probably survive. If you rent an apartment in that side of town, your children may end up going to that school district. Some decisions are a way bigger deal than other ones and our ancestors have been making them for a really, really long time. Your brain tries really hard to make the right decision for you – sometimes, it’s wrong, and sometimes, it’s right.
How does your brain make that decision?
Our understanding of choice is a little bit limited. We know that emotions have a great deal to do with our choices, but while emotions and logic are the primary decision makers in your brain, they aren’t the only ones. I’ve agonized whether my choice is the right one even when it comes to something as insignificant as a bellpepper. It’s a bell pepper in a shop; of course it’s going to be up to standard. That’s not what is going through my head, though.
Oh, wow. This looks a bit beaten up. That one looks a bit small, though. This one is organic – but it’s so much more expensive.
And on, and on, and on.
Surprisingly, I’m nothing like that when it comes to a big purchase. I know instantly if this is the expensive dress I want to buy for the party once I’ve tried it on and as soon as I walked into my apartment, I knew I would have to rent it. My husband is way more decisive about small things and way more indecisive about big ones.
Scientists are still trying to understand exactly how people make decisions. Talking exactly about how humans make decisions is very complicated – in fact, there’s a whole new field that scientists call “decision neuroscience” to study this.
Where your decision is made in the brain seems to vary depending on the type of decision it is. I don’t mean like the difference between buying your first new car and deciding to eat grapes over apples, but rather the decision you make when you decide “Oh, I should wash the dishes” and the decision you make when you think about how, exactly, you are going to wash the dishes. The first is an abstract concept and the second one is a concrete concept. Your brain is always calculating the risk & reward regarding something before you make the decision. Experiments done in monkeys indicate that scientists can actually predict what decision they are going to make before they have made it themselves.
Let’s say that there are two parts of your brain.
Your logical part is really slow. It’s lazy. You can’t use it while doing something else. If someone asks you to do a complex equation while you are driving, you are probably going to pull over and write it out before you arrive at a conclusion.
You use both of these parts of your brain when you make decisions.
The problem is using the right part at the right time – using the intuitive part of your brain when you need to use the logical part. We’ll just have to continue to make the decision to keep studying our brains until we know what is happening for sure.