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Decision Making

How the Brain Processes Information and Makes Choices


Decision making is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, influencing everything from our career choices to the food we eat. It is a complex cognitive process that involves the interplay of various brain regions, neurotransmitters, hormones, and chemical reactions. Understanding the neuroscience behind decision making can provide valuable insights into how our brain processes information and how we can improve our decision-making abilities. In this blog, we will explore the key components of decision making, the role of different brain regions, the influence of hormones and chemical reactions, techniques to enhance processing and choice making ability, and the impact of concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries on decision making.


Brain Regions Involved in Decision Making


Several brain regions work together to process information and make decisions. Here are some key regions and their functions [1, 2]:

Prefrontal Cortex: The prefrontal cortex, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, is involved in higher-level cognitive processes, such as reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. It helps weigh the pros and cons of different options and evaluate potential outcomes.



Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC): The ACC plays a role in monitoring conflicts, evaluating the salience of stimuli, and detecting errors. It helps in decision-making processes that involve assessing risks and rewards.



Hormones and Chemical Reactions


Several hormones and neurotransmitters influence decision making by modulating neural activity and signalling processes. Here are a few key players [3]:


Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation. It plays a crucial role in reinforcing positive outcomes and can influence our preference for certain choices.


Serotonin: Serotonin is involved in regulating mood, emotions, and impulsivity. It can impact decision making by modulating risk aversion and social behaviour.


Noradrenaline: Noradrenaline, also known as norepinephrine, is involved in arousal and attention. It can enhance cognitive flexibility and influence decision making by promoting exploration and information processing.


Impact of Concussion on Decision Making


Concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs) can have a significant impact on information processing and decision making [4, 5]. Altered mental state and confusion are symptoms associated with concussion that can negatively affect information processing ability [6].


The disruption of neural connections and chemical imbalances in the brain can lead to cognitive impairments, including difficulties with attention, memory, and executive functions [6]. Individuals who have experienced concussions may benefit from specialized cognitive rehabilitation programs, rest, and gradual return to cognitive activities under medical supervision.


Improving Processing and Choice Making Ability


Enhancing our decision-making abilities is a valuable skill that can be developed over time. Here are a few techniques to improve processing and choice making ability:


Cognitive Training: Engaging in cognitive training exercises, such as puzzles, memory games, and logical reasoning tasks, can sharpen cognitive skills, including problem-solving and decision making.


Seeking Diverse Perspectives: Actively seeking diverse perspectives and opinions can broaden our understanding of complex issues, reducing biases, and facilitating more informed decision making.


Taking Breaks: Allowing for breaks during decision-making processes can prevent decision fatigue and promote better cognitive functioning. The old adage ‘sleep on it’.

Natural Supplements for Decision Making


Here are a few natural compounds that have been suggested to enhance cognitive function and decision making:


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, have been associated with improved cognitive performance, attention, and memory.


Lemon Balm: Traditionally used to improve mood and cognitive function.


Ashwaghanda: Reported to decrease perceptions of stress, enhance mood, and improve cognitive function.


Bacopa Monnieri: Bacopa Monnieri, an herb used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, has been shown to enhance cognitive function, memory, and attention.


Ginkgo Biloba: Ginkgo Biloba, derived from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, is believed to improve cognitive function and attention span.


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Daniel Glassbrook, PhD


Daniel is a sports scientist and researcher, previously working as the first team sports scientist for the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club, and a postdoctoral researcher in sports related concussion at Durham University.


References

1. Moghadam, S. S., Khodadad, F. S., & Khazaeinezhad, V. (2019). An algorithmic model of decision making in the human brain. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 10(5), 443.

2. Broche-Pérez, Y., L.F. Herrera Jiménez, and E. Omar-Martínez, Neural substrates of decision-making. Neurología (English Edition), 2016. 31(5): p. 319-325.

3. Sarmiento Rivera, L. F., & Gouveia, A. (2021). Neurotransmitters and Hormones in Human Decision-Making. Psychiatry and Neuroscience Update: From Epistemology to Clinical Psychiatry–Vol. IV, 149-167.

4. Bernstein DM. Information processing difficulty long after self-reported concussion. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 2002;8(5):673-82.

5. Gronwall D, Wrightson P. Memory and information processing capacity after closed head injury. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 1981;44(10):889-95.

6. Sharma A, Hind K, Hume P, Singh J, Neary JP. Neurovascular coupling by functional near infra-red spectroscopy and sport-related concussion in retired rugby players: The UK rugby health project. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2020;14.

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