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Making Choices - How Your Brain Decides

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Pamela Barnett

on 26 March 2017

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Transcript of Making Choices - How Your Brain Decides

Rational Thinking and Emotional Behaviour
Making Choices - How Your Brain Decides
Your Brain and Moral Decision Making
Effects of Damage to Decision Making Areas of the Brain
The case histories of Phineas Gage and Elliot have been critical to our understanding of the role of emotions in making decisions
The Role of Emotions in Decision Making
A Paradigm Shift
Dan Ariely on Decision-Making
(2) The Case of Elliot
Elliot's case history is more recent
Western science no longer holds these to be separate and disconnected processes
We know a lot more about the areas of the brain associated with decision-making
Brain Lobes
Prefrontal Cortex
Orbital Frontal Cortex
The Old Paradigm
mind, morals
rational thinking
higher order
lower order
physical response
Modern Neuroscience
"Emotions, and in humans the mental representation of emotions that are subjectively experienced as feelings, are absolutely necessary for rational behaviour."
Jeanette Norden, Understanding the Brain, 2007
Rational behaviour is not possible without emotion
Value-based decision making
Making Choices
How Your Brain Decides
Cerebral Cortex
Our buggy moral code
"Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it's OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we're predictably irrational -- and can be influenced in ways we can't grasp."
TED Talk 16;20
exercising impulse control
learning and abstracting cultural mores
understanding the consequences of one's behaviour
differentiate among conflicting thoughts
good and bad, better and best, same and different
setting goals
predicting outcomes
plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness
determine overall value
guide behaviour
The mores of our culture
historically created models that guide our behaviour
may be explicit, implicit, reasoned, or taken for granted
acting against them usually produces shame, guilt or weakened / loss of connection
following them triggers the brain's reward system - we feel good, we feel connected
the resulting subjective state or "feeling" motivates and relates to future decisions
"We don't decide on a moral code because we think about it." Jeanette Norden
What are moral codes?
The orbital frontal cortex is involved in abstracting the mores of our culture
"The orbitofrontal cortex abstracts the rules of social interaction from the time we are born," - just as the brain abstracts the rules of language learned in early childhood
We learn the rules of our culture long before we learn to think about them
As adults we will tend to adhere to the habits of mind, values and behaviours of our formative environments
. . . unless we decide to change our habits of thoughts, mind and behaviour
Learning from Moral Psychology
Researchers use fMRI to study the brains of subjects engaged in moral decision-making through thought experiments
The Moral Impersonal Dilemma
let five people die
or flip a switch, save those five,
and cause one person to be killed
Most people across cultures, religions, and genders choose to flip the switch
The Moral Personal Dilemma
let five people die
or push the person standing next to you off the platform onto the track
five people will be saved,
but the person you pushed will die
Most people across cultures, religions and genders decided that would be wrong
fMRI Images - Most Active Areas of the Brain
the orbitofrontal cortex
areas of the limbic system associated with learning, memory and emotion
the limbic system was most activated when processing a moral dilemma
Experiments like these indicate that important decisions and judgement involve the emotional areas of our brain - i.e., moral decisions involve emotions
Phineas Gage
surface similarities in brain damage
neuroscientists have so far been unable to account for significant differences in reported personality changes caused by damage to heir brains
Two Case Histories
(1) The Story of Phineas Gage
On September 23, 1848, Gage was 25
He was using a tamping iron to pack explosive powder into a hole when the powder detonated
The iron - 43 " long and 1.25 " in diameter, weighing 13.25 pounds, shot skyward (approx 109.2 cm/3.2cm/7kg)
It penetrated Gage's cheek, ripped into his brain, and exited through his skull
He was left blinded in one eye
"Here's business enough for you," he reportedly told his doctor that day
Previously an "efficient and capable foreman," Gage lost his job with the railroad company
He worked at a stable and drove coaches in Chile
He died at 36 in San Francisco following a series of seizures
Elliot's personality and life changed dramatically after his surgery
but he could no longer experience feelings of emotion
he could remember emotions and describe feelings
his ability to reason was not affected
he could discuss pros and cons, but could not weigh the options
he could not make a decision, esp. where there were personal and social implications
Reportedly, his personality also changed dramatically
Reports of unrestrained antisocial behaviours likely distorted or exaggerated
This young man developed a brain tumour that had to be removed
The prefrontal cortex of both hemispheres was damaged, including axons beneath the prefrontal area
There was more damage to the right hemisphere
Unable to engage his emotions
The Effects of Damage to Elliot's PFC
Unable to experience the feelings that would relate experience to reason
Unable to make decisions
emotions are essential for cognition and rational behaviour
emotions play a critical role in guiding our decision-making
emotions and our feelings related to previous experience - as well as learning, memory, experience - influence decision-making and present action
"We learn from experience and decisions we make now influence our decisions in the future." We are not so much characterized by our ability to reason, as by the elaboration of the emotional experiences that guide our behaviour. (Jeanette Norden, Understanding the Brain, 2007)
"Emotions and the brain"
He may not have lost consciousness
Cognitive processing and control
Reason AND Emotion
It was ejected 80' (25m); some reports say 300'
He sustained brain damage to 5% of cerebral cortex, and 10% of white matter (axons and pathways) - affecting connections throughout his brain
For CC and transcript of this video go to "Emotions and the brain" @ https://www.youtube.com/user/SentisDigital/videos
Dan Ariely on Decision-Making
Many of our most important decisions are driven by factors external to our mental processes.
. . . because we care, it's difficult and it's complex, it's so complex that we don't know what to do, and because we don't have any idea what to do, we just pick what was chosen for us."
TED Talk 17:22
Are we in control of our decisions?
For subtitles - go to ted.com
For subtitles - go to ted.com
BUT cause one person to be killed
We now know that purely "rational" decisions are not possible
"Rational decisions involve emotions (conscious/non-conscious) as well as reason
Decision Making Networks Guide our Reasoning and Behaviours
Full transcript