Vocational Careers | The Neuroscience of Decision-making
Vocational Careers provides cutting edge leadership and specialised training (including Safety, Learning and Coaching) for professional and personal development based on Neuroscience research.
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The Neuroscience of Decision-making


Decision-making is a field of interest for philosophers, economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists, among others. The study of decision-making has as its goal the understanding of our fundamental ability to process multiple alternatives and choose an optimal course of action. A fundamental question that drives research in this area is why people who are presented with the same options make different choices. What is it about the cognitive and neurological processes that lead people to different outcomes? Why do rational models such as those used in economics and the classical decision-making theory not always accurately predict an individual’s behavior? These questions and others are particularly relevant to decision-making under risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

The emerging field of neuroeconomics, which combines perspectives and theories from psychology, economics, and neuroscience, addresses these questions. The question then becomes, how can neuroscience help our understanding of how managers and leaders make decisions? In this training a decision has been made to focus on recent developments in the neuroscience of decision- making relevant to the field of neuroeconomics.

Researches have shown that the brain has two hemispheres, each with its own character in cognitive functions (springer and Deutsch, 1981). Sperry (1964) and Ornstein (1978) suggest that these two sides of an individual’s brain is linked by the corpus callosum, a complex network of nerve fibres. Each side of the brain has different types of activity. The left hemisphere of the brain is known as analytical, verbal, sequential, concrete, and rational; the right hemisphere as intuitive, spontaneous, holistic, visual, and symbolic. Given these different functions, where does decision-making actually take place in the brain? An extensive review of the literature suggests that generally all four areas in the brain can be associated with decision-making, namely the prefrontal/frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital regions.

Cognitive neuroscience studies on human decision-making demonstrate that decision-making involves many neural processes and sub-processes, as well as an equally complex set of regions and sub-regions in the brain. For example, in a study of insight or mental preparation for problem-solving using EEG and fMRi, Kounios et al. (in press) found medial frontal areas to be associated with cognitive control and temporal areas to be associated with semantic processing. Over the past decade, developments made in understanding these phenomena have been essentially bits and pieces of information about various regions and sub-regions involved in different functionalities.

Like other executive processes, decision-making involves a wide range of inputs such as multi-modal sensory inputs, conditioning based on past experience, sensory and emotional responses, and the anticipation of future goals. Furthermore, these inputs must be integrated and associated with uncertainties, expectations and outcomes and subsequently processed to make the most appropriate decisions.

Learning Objectives


At the end of this session, participants will be able to: (not limited to)

  • Name and discuss the four areas of the brain involved in decision-making
  • Discuss why it is important to understand the process of decision-making in the brain
  • Discuss decision-making that involves risk
  • Discuss the role dopamine plays in decision-making