What do I want to study? What do I want to do? In case or not in case? Do I want to have children? Each of these questions has one thing in common: giving an answer involves making decisions about some kind of situation or aspect of our lives. In our daily life, we have to choose, decide and make decisions all the time.
And while it can be relatively automated in many cases, the truth is that decision making or determination is a very complex process, as it requires a lot of effort and sub-processes at the functional and anatomo-brain levels. In addition, there are many factors that can influence when to choose, and different motivations can affect the final decision.
Throughout this article let’s talk about what decision making is, Different factors that can affect it and the main steps to follow to make a choice.
Decision making: a fundamental part of our lives
While we are all constantly making choices and determining what to do next through our own decision making, the truth is that it is not that common to stop and think about what it means to have this ability, d ‘where she’s from. or even what we’re talking about.
We call decision making set of processes by which a subject decides to select one of multiple options possible among those presented, on the basis of a large number of factors surrounding the subject’s personal situation and the situation or element in relation to which to choose.
In other words, it is the set of mental activities that we carry out to emit a response in a context in which we have to choose between several alternatives.
This is one of the so-called executive functions, Which are conceptualized as the set of cognitive abilities and skills by which we may be able to resolve situations to which we are not accustomed, are new to us and for which we have no strategy or plan to previously established action.
These allow us to adapt to the environment and survive by being able to work with all available internal and external information and stimuli, so that we can regulate our activity to achieve our goals.
This process is usually performed in order to solve some kind of problem. It is a process that can be both conscious (especially if the problem in question concerns us) and semi-conscious in cases where the decision to be made is automated.
It is important to keep in mind that, like other executive functions, decision making is not a process that tightly moves away from other mental processes, but depends on the existence of other mental processes. that allow us to capture, synthesize and work with information.
Among many other related features, choosing involves keeping in mind the options available, To be able to pay attention to each of them and to calculate on the basis of previous experiences and knowledge the possible results of the different elections. It also involves the ability to perceive environmental stimuli and one’s own feelings, thoughts and beliefs, as well as the willingness and motivation to plan and execute an action.
Areas of the brain involved
The decision-making process, like other executive functions, it mainly depends 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, that the mental operations necessary to make choices, make predictions and assess the costs or benefits of taking one or the other option are processed and performed. .
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.
When making decisions, as we have seen above, a large number of factors of various kinds are involved. Among these factors is the subject’s motivation to solve the problem or to make a choice. which has as its end a desirable resultIn other words, making a decision or not is relevant to us or has some kind of pleasant or unpleasant consequence.
Self-esteem, sense of self-efficacy and locus of control are also key aspects when making decisions: we will make decisions more easily if we believe our actions will have an impact or influence the outcome of the decision. situation, and they can be done more safely if we believe we are able to make decisions and carry out the actions that result from them.
Another aspect to assess is the expectations we have of reality or the possible consequences of our choices. Furthermore, calculating the benefits and costs of each choice may change the type of determination we make. It is also necessary to assess the effect of not choosing the other alternatives: choosing one implies that the rest, and its possible repercussions, will not occur.
In addition, at the cognitive level, it is necessary to take into account the existence of possible biases, such as the tendency to interpret reality according to what the subject believes in advance without considering other girlfriends, the belief that other more expert people always turn to be right, the tendency to modify decisions based on what is expressed by the group or the presence of discrepancies between what is believed best and what is ultimately done . All of this can disrupt decision making.
Emotions can also play an important role. In this sense, it is also necessary to take into account the appreciation made of the various possible results of our action. And not only the emotions that prompt the possible choices should be valued, but the emotional state of the subject when making the decision: a sad or depressed person will make choices differently than they would while still being happy and happy.
Another emotion that can cause problems is fear: it can cause a more rushed response or even the inability or difficulty to make decisions, and it can also affect stress or anxiety.
Certain psychopathologies and even certain medical illnesses or injuries they can also impair the ability to reason and make decisions, which is usually difficult (either because there is a slowing down or speeding up of the process, or because there are problems generating alternatives).
On a more environmental level, it should be noted that there may be a great influence of the environment. The lifelong learning we have done, the beliefs and idiosyncrasies of our culture, the parenting patterns we have experienced or the type of social network in which we operate can facilitate, hinder or moderate decision making towards a specific type of action.
Phases of decision making
Making a decision is not something immediate, but it does mean a set of mental steps or actions before the final election.
First, in order to make a decision, we must be clear about the situation that leads us to make it. In other words, a situation or event must first occur and be recognized as such, which leads us to consider different options when taking action. In other words, the problem must be perceived.
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 be able to generate alternatives that they can react to the situation and identify to what extent they are doing it.
After that and on the basis of these criteria, we will proceed as far as possible to develop as many possible solutions or possible alternatives for action. For the moment, only alternatives are generated, although in general we also reject the strangest and most unsustainable ones as we go.
Of all these options, our minds lead us to evaluate which ones seem the most appropriate and viable, try to make a prediction of its usefulness and functionality and what would be the possible outcomes of the different options. The risks and benefits are calculated.
Then we choose one, which was then evaluated in more depth before being made. Subsequently, the decision itself is made, which can lead to its implementation in reality (and subsequent evaluation of the results and comparison between what was achieved and what was expected).
- Naqvi, N .; Shiv, B .; Bechara, A. (2006). The role of emotion in decision making: a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Current orientations in psychological sciences. 15 (5): 260-264.
- Verdejo-García, A. and Bechara, A. (2010). Neuropsychology of executive functions. Psicothema, 22 (2): 227-235.