Decision Making: What It Is, Phases And Parts Of The Brain Involved

decision making

What do I want to study? What do I want to dedicate myself to? Should I get married or not get married? Do I want to have children? Each and every one of these questions have something in common: Giving an answer implies making a decision regarding some type of situation or aspect of our lives. In our daily lives we have to choose, decide and make decisions constantly.

And although it can be relatively automated in many cases, the truth is that making a decision or determination is a very complex process, given that it requires a large amount of effort and subprocesses both at the functional level and at the anatomical-cerebral level. Furthermore, there are many factors that can influence the moment of choosing, and different motivations that can alter the final decision.

Throughout this article Let’s talk about what decision making is different factors that can affect it and the main steps involved in making a choice.

Decision making: a fundamental element in our life

Although all of us constantly make choices and determine the course of action to follow through our own decision-making, the truth is that it is not so common to stop and think about what it means that we have this capacity, where it comes from or even what we are talking about. .

We give the name decision making to set of processes through which a subject makes the determination to select one of the multiple options possible among those presented, based on a large number of factors surrounding the personal situation of the subject and the situation or element with respect to which one must choose.

In other words, it is the set of mental activities that we carry out to issue a response in a context in which we have to choose between several alternatives.

Is about one of the so-called executive functions which are conceptualized as the set of cognitive abilities and skills through which we can be able to resolve situations that we are not used to, that are new to us, and for which we do not have a previously established strategy or action plan.

These allow us to adapt to the environment and survive by making us capable of working with the set of internal and external information and stimulations that are available, in such a way that we can regulate our activity to carry out our purposes.

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Generally this process is carried out in order to solve some kind of problem. This is a process that can be both conscious (especially if the problem in question is relevant to us) and semi-conscious in cases where the decision to be made is automated.

It is important to keep in mind that, like the rest of the executive functions, decision making is not a process that is isolated from other mental processes in a sealed manner, but rather depends on the existence of other mental processes that allow us to capture, synthesize and work with information.

Among many other related functions, choosing involves keeping the available options in memory, being able to pay attention to each of them and calculate possible outcomes of the different choices based on previous experiences and knowledge. It also involves the ability to perceive environmental stimuli and one’s own sensations, thoughts and beliefs, as well as the will and motivation to plan and carry out an action.

Brain areas involved

The decision-making process, like the rest of the executive functions, It depends mainly on our frontal lobe and its connections with the rest of the brain.

It is in this part of the neocortex, especially in its ventromedial part, where the mental operations necessary to make choices, make predictions and assess the costs or benefits of taking one or another option are processed and carried out.

However, the decision-making process also depends at the brain level on structures such as the insula, amygdala and basal ganglia, as well as the dorsolateral prefrontal.

Influential factors

When making decisions, as we have commented previously, a large number of factors of various kinds are involved. Among these factors, the subject’s motivation to solve the problem or make a choice stands out. that has as its goal a desirable result that is, the fact that making a decision or not making it is relevant to us or generates some type of pleasant or unpleasant consequence.

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Self-esteem, the feeling of self-efficacy and the locus of control are also key aspects when making decisions: we will make decisions more easily if we believe that our actions are going to have an impact or influence the outcome of the situation, and They can be carried out with more security if we believe ourselves capable of making decisions and carrying out the actions that derive from said making.

Another aspect to evaluate is the expectations we have regarding reality or the possible consequences of our choices. In addition to this, The calculation of benefits and costs of each choice can alter the type of determination we make. Likewise, we must also assess the effect of not choosing the rest of the alternatives: choosing one implies that the rest, and their possible repercussions, will not occur.

Furthermore, at a cognitive level we must take into account the existence of possible biases, such as the tendency to interpret reality based on what the subject believes in advance without considering other opinions, the belief that other more expert people will always have the reason, the tendency to modify decisions based on what is expressed by the group or the presence of disagreements between what is believed to be best and what ends up being done. All of this can alter decision making.

Emotions can also play an important role. In this sense, we must also take into account the assessment made of the different possible results of our actions. And not only the emotions elicited by the possible options must be assessed, but also the emotional state of the subject when making the decision: a sad or depressed person will make choices differently than they would if they were happy and happy.

Another emotion that can cause problems is fear: it can generate a more hasty response or even the impossibility or difficulty of making decisions, and it can also affect stress or anxiety.

Some psychopathologies and even some medical illnesses or injuries They can also alter the ability to reason and make decisions, generally making it difficult (either because the process is slowed down or accelerated, or because problems arise when generating alternatives).

At a more environmental level, it is worth noting that there may be a great influence from the environment. The learning we have done throughout life, the beliefs and idiosyncrasies of our culture, the parental models we have had or the type of social network in which we operate can facilitate, hinder or moderate decision-making towards a type of concrete action.

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Decision-making phases

Making a decision is not something immediate, but rather involves a set of steps or mental actions prior to the final choice.

First of all, to make a decision we have to be clear about what situation leads us to have to make it. That is, it is first necessary for a situation or event to occur and be recognized as such that leads us to consider different options when taking action. In other words, you have to perceive the problem.

Once in this situation or in anticipation of it, the next step is to define it and determine which aspects are relevant in order to generate alternatives that can respond to the situation, as well as identify to what degree they do so.

After that and based on these criteria, we will proceed as far as possible to develop the maximum number of possible solutions or alternatives for action. At this moment only alternatives are generated, although in general we also discard the strangest and most unviable ones as we do so.

Of all these options, our mind leads us to evaluate those that seem most appropriate and viable, trying to make a prediction of its usefulness and functionality and what the possible results of the different options would be. Risks and benefits are calculated.

After that, we proceed to choose one, which will subsequently be evaluated in more depth before being carried out. Subsequently, the decision itself is made, something that can lead to its implementation in reality (and a subsequent evaluation of the results and the comparison between what was achieved and what was expected).

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