Brain Study Shows Some People Are More ‘In Tune’ With What They Want, And Why

My husband knows what he wants. He goes to a restaurant, glances at the menu, and decides. I peruse. I meander. I am the one who stands in the store aisle for hours trying to decide if I want the 4 ounce juice glasses, or the 6 ounce.

Turns out, I’m not the only one. Researchers have now discovered how the brain assesses confidence in its decisions. The findings explain why some people have “better insight” into their choices than others.

Science Daily reports that throughout life, “we’re constantly evaluating our options and making decisions based on the information we have available.” How confident we are in the decisions we make has clear consequences.

“For example, investment bankers have to be confident that they’re making the right choice when deciding where to put their clients’ money,” researchers note.

Researcher at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at UCL have pinpointed the specific areas of the brain that interact to figure out both the value of the choices we have in front of us, and our confidence in those choices. This interaction gives us the ability to know what we want, and not second guess our decisions.

Professor Ray Dolan, lead researcher, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the brains of twenty hungry volunteers while they made choices between food items that they would later eat. The process is as follows:

“To determine the subjective value of the snack options, the participants were asked to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for each snack. Then after making their choice, they were asked to report how confident they were that they had made the right decision and selected the best snack.”

Dr. Steve Fleming, a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow now based at New York University, explains the results: “We found that people’s confidence varied from decision to decision. While we knew where to look for signals of value computation, it was very interesting to also observe neural signals of confidence in the same brain region.”

Dr. Benedetto De Martino, a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL, added: “Overall, we think our results provide an initial account both of how people make choices, and also their insight into the decision process.”

Do you make decisions quickly and with confidence? Or are you, like me, a wonder-er?