A decision is a fact of life. Both the good and the bad, the wrong and the right, one seemingly unjust turn waiting to happen amid the uncertain crossroads of life. Lets be honest, making a decision will always provide the answer, that is the ideal outcome, nothing goes wrong, everything is perfect, happily ever after. On the contrary, there is the undesirable result, which you would rather keep trapped in a cage and have thrown into a river in order to prevent ‘it’ from ruining your party. Now with making a decision comes the possibility for his arch-nemesis “regret” to appear in the equation. Lets look at it this way, if your friend ‘decision’ calls and asks if you want to see this movie which you assume is going to be terrible, you’d probably say “No,” thereby rejecting ‘decision.’ A week later ‘regret’ sends you a letter saying ‘decision’ went to the movie that day, saw your partner, they both hit it off, ‘decision’ slept with them, and now your partner never wants to see you again. See why you should have gone to the movie! That my friends is exactly, to a tee, the comic strip you will see when you look up decision in the dictionary.
Long ramble short, the art of making a decision occurs too many times to count each and every day. Should I hit the snooze button once or twice? How will this effect the amount of time it takes me to get swagged out? If I don’t proceed with the normal swag process, will my 8 a.m. classmates think any less of me than they already do? Who knows, but that is why we are here, right? Yes. For I am the storyteller, the sandman who makes you sleep so soundly at night, and the keeper of the secrets as to why you may or may not be indecisive. So without further adieu, hop on the magic school bus children as we begin our journey to the…(suspense)….build up…bum bum buh…the LAND BEFORE TIME!!! Well maybe, but in the meantime, lets take a look at how Neuroscientists have caught a glimpse of how the brain decides what to believe.
A sense of what we know and don’t know is a universal human experience often associated with how confident we are with the decisions we make. Ultimately, the more confident we are with a decision, the more difficulty we may have breaking away from that choice. However, new research being completed by Neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suggests that the estimation of confidence that underlies these daily decisions may be a product of information processing within the brain. To solve this ongoing debate, researchers began trials using rats and their heightened olfactory senses to test their levels of uncertainty. Translated to English, scientists knew that rats sense of smell is extremely sensitive. With this knowledge, they produced mixtures containing varying strengths of smells and gave rewards to the rats who were able to distinguish which component of the mixture was stronger within that specific mixture. In essence, if a rat is able to relay back to a scientist that there was more snozberry than b-a-n-a-n-a-s in the mixture, he or she was given an incredibly delicious reward.
While undergoing these trials, scientists recorded signals from individual neurons in the rodents’ brains. They found that neurons in a part of the brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex (an area of the brain found in both rats and humans) signal the uncertainty of the decisions, “firing” much more vigorously in difficult tests compared with easier tests. Coupled with a follow-up study that was designed specifically to test the confidence of the rats, scientists were able to learn further information pertaining to the neuronal sequences that correlated with confidence. Unlike the first study, in which the rats were given a reward immediately should their decision be correct, this study created a significant delay period between the end of the trial and reward. During this period of time, the rats were given the option to abort the trial and begin again, prior to learning the fate of their decisions. Ultimately, rats often chose to abort the current trial, depicting how they could not only calculate their levels of confidence with their decisions, but translate that response into behavior. Pretty cool huh?
So what have we learned today. Rats may be able to distinguish between various smells, but can they spell b-a-n-a-n-a? Confidence in relation to decision making is not a complex process only associated with humans, but rather a core component of decision making that is found throughout the animal kingdom. And finally, there is always a right way to make the wrong decision and vice versa (Yeah, try and play that one out in your head) lol.