How the Brain Makes Decisions

Every day we have to make decisions that involve evaluating or choosing between options, often without much information to go on. So how do we prevent analysis paralysis?

What's the Latest Development?

When choosing between two options, for example, predicting who will win a sports competition, recent research shows that we will choose the side we are most familiar with despite being ignorant of the information needed to make a truly informed decision. What's more, our association with the more familiar option is unconscious, i.e. it takes place before we are aware of which option is the more familiar one. Experimenters at Saarland University, Germany, detected that people's brains begin associating with what is familiar to them as early as 300 to 450 milliseconds after someone is exposed to the familiar object.

What's the Big Idea?

While siding with familiarity when we lack other information on which to base a decision may help us decide quickly and efficiently, it may not always lead us down the right path. Selecting the most familiar option may work against us when it comes to picking stocks, for example: "For the stock market, there is some reason to believe that the investment returns correlate negatively (and not positively) with the recognition of a company. A lot of companies involved in the credit crunch crisis actually had highly familiar names and this familiarity might have persuaded investors to rely on their products and stocks."

Related Articles

How schizophrenia is linked to common personality type

Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.

Mind & Brain
  • A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
  • This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
Keep reading Show less

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less