Tag Archives: Decision Making

“Breast Screening Decisions” Helps You Make a Plan For Mammograms

“Breast Screening Decisions” Helps You Make a Plan For Mammograms

There are four different sets of guidelines on when you should start getting mammograms and how often you need them—and they disagree with each other. A tool called Breast Screening Decisions can help low-risk women figure out what schedule is best.

Mammogram decisions are tricky because more women will get a false-positive result (saying they have cancer when they really don’t) than accurate positives. This can lead to more testing and potentially to chemotherapy or surgery that wasn’t needed. On the other hand, skipping mammograms means you won’t have the ability to detect cancer in its earliest stages.

Many groups, including the US Preventive Services Task Force, say that the best approach is to talk to your doctor about what is right for you. The Breast Screening Decisions tool helps you figure out where to start that discussion. You answer some questions about your risk (How many of your relatives have had breast cancer? At what age did you have your first child?) and it guides you through some things to consider.

For example, it gives visual representations of your false-positive and false-negative rates, like in the screenshot above. It also compares your likelihood of dying of breast cancer versus other diseases under different screening schedules.

At the end of the process, it asks your thoughts on statements like “I’m willing to do anything to detect breast cancer as early as possible” and “I only want to have mammograms if I am at high risk for breast cancer.” Then it gives you a printable summary of all of the information that the tool gave you, customized to your risk.

My only gripe is that it doesn’t answer the question: the summary doesn’t say which, if any, of the existing guidelines are a good fit for you. The printout just displays your answers to the opinion questions rather than trying to tell you what your opinions mean. But that’s sort of the point: to get the real answer, you’ll have to talk to your doctor.

Breast Screening Decisions via NPR

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“Strike While the Iron Is Cold”

"Strike While the Iron Is Cold"

You’ve probably heard the phrase “strike while the iron is hot,” but when emotions are running high, it’s often better to not strike at all. By waiting for the “iron” to go cold, you’ll avoid making heated situations any worse.

We all do things we regret when our temper gets the best of us. That’s why Mira Zaslove at Quora shares a bit of advice she received from Stanford professor Irvin Yalom:

Strike while the iron is cold.

Don’t quit your job, leave your spouse, or engage in nasty Facebook feuds when emotions are running hot. If you have the urge to strike, sleep on it, hit the gym, take a long walk, or binge watch “The Americans…” By waiting to strike, you usually realize you don’t have to. And if you do, you can act in a deliberate fashion. Any hot emotions have simmered into a more meaningful cool determination.

It’s hard not to lash out and make rash decisions when your emotions are running high, but you have to look ahead and do damage control before it even starts.


Mira Zaslove’s answer to “What is a good piece of random advice?” | Quora

Photo by James Saunders.

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

History is full of evil dictators, and while the had their share of bad qualities, it’s undeniable they were efficient at getting things done. Here’s what we can learn from them, despite their evil nature.

This post, originally published in 2012, is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Sometimes evil is justified, and other times, knowing evil means knowing how to beat it. Want more? Check out ourevil week tag page.


Dictators manipulate people when their willpower is weak, they get rid of close friends, and they give rousing speeches that can convince people to do just about anything. Here’s six things, both good and evil, we can learn from the ways dictators have handled situations.

Force Difficult Decisions on People When Their Willpower is Weak

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

As we’ve talked about before, working when you’re tired and when you’re suffering from decision fatigue leads to poor decision making. A good dictator knows exactly how to exploit this.


Cuban dictator Fidel Castro loved 4 a.m. meetings where he’d often get people out of bed so he could put them at a distinct disadvantage. Russian dictator Joseph Stalin would also use this tactic, even meeting Winston Churchill late at night to draw up plans to attack Germany.

How you can use this: In both of these cases, the idea is to catch your enemies (or allies) when their willpower is low and they’re willing to do anything to work with you. On the flipside of this, it’s a reminder that decision fatigue is real and easily exploitable by anyone for a variety of means—so whenever possible, avoid those 4am meetings with your boss (or give yourself enough time to wake up beforehand). Photo by Garry Knight.

Create a “Five-Year Plan” for Personal Goals

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

Popularized by Joseph Stalin, the Five-Year Plan was an economic plan that sought to bring about a specific end goal like industrialization, lower unemployment, and general readiness for possible problems. On top of being embraced in Soviet Russia, the idea of a Five-Year Plan was used in The People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Pakistan, Vietnam, and others.

How you can use this: While your five-year plan will likely be less ambitious than most dictator’s, the idea itself is still a solid one. In fact, we’ve talked about making a five-year financial plan before, and “where do you see yourself in five years?” is a popular interview question you should have a response to.


To figure out what you want, and how to work towards those goals, financial blog The Simple Dollar recommends you create a Five-Year Sketch:

Here are some elements to think about when making this sketch:
What will your job be like?
What will your family be like?
What will your physical appearance be like?
What will your home be like?
What will a typical day be like?
What will you be looking forward to?
What will your social circle look like?
I encourage you to try to write down at least ten traits for each of these questions that describe the way you’d like your life to be in five years.

Planning ahead five years is a great way to figure out what you want, and how you want to get it. We’ve shown you how to prioritize those goals with a hierarchy, how to fight back when your brain stops you from achieving goals, and even how working towards your goals in public can help. Photo by Pascal.


Purge Threats to Your Power

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

In order to hold onto power, a dictator often needs to get rid of threats. This means purging your closest friends and advisors when they get too close to you or you feel like they want your power. The threat alone makes those outside the circle vie for power and attention, while the inner circle is stuck sucking up to you.

Nearly every dictator uses this tactic to some extent, but Fidel Castro and Peru’s Alberto Fujimoro were especially good at it. As Steven Levitsky points out in the Journal of Democracy, Fujimori is most famous for his self-coup in 1992 where he closed Congress, suspended the constitution and got rid of the judiciary so that he could take control.

In their book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, authors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith outline this idea as “Rule 1: Keep your winning coalition as small as possible.”

Fidel Castro was legendary at this. After the revolution in Cuba was a success, 12 of his 20 ministers had resigned (or were ousted). This included Castro’s fellow revolutionary Che Guevara. Castro sent Guevera to Bolivia for a mission in 1967, then cut his funding and left him stranded there because Castro saw Guevera as a threat.


How you can use this: If someone is challenging your authority, the easiest way to deal with it is to get rid of the person in question. Be careful and keep an eye out for anyone gunning for your position. On the flipside, if you’re looking to move up in the ranks, you’ll either want to be extra nice to the person who’s job you’re gunning for, so they don’t feel threatened. Alternatively, you could try to get rid of them before they get rid of you, but that’s much riskier (and not as nice). Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Embrace Your “Cult of Personality”

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

The cult of personality is a well-known dictator trick. The idea is to present yourself as the most amazing thing possible. To do this, dictators would pick up ridiculous habits, plaster their photos all over the country, or even give themselves nicknames.

The most prominent (and possibly over-the-top) example of was North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, aka, the Supreme Leader of North Korea. Jong-il’s cult of personality rose to the point where, according to author’s Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot in the their book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, people actually believed that Jong-il could control the weather with his outfits.

This is common practice amongst dictators. Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu gave himself the title, “The Genius of the Carpathians,” Italy’s Benito Mussollini made himself look taller by only allowing pictures from certain angles, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi only employed female bodyguards known as the “Amazonian Guard”, and Cambodia’s Pol Pot rarely allowed pictures of himself at all.


How you can use this: Your own cult of personality isn’t likely to get as extensive as a dictator’s, but the idea that you can embrace and control it is important for things like job searches. As we’ve mentioned before, shameless self-promotion during interviews isn’t a bad thing. More important is establishing and maintaining your online identity, which is essentially the non-dictator version of the “cult of personality.” If you control what others see, you can control their perception of you, and come off looking a lot better than you are in real life.


Give Direct, Powerful Speeches

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

By a lot of accounts, Germany’s Adolf Hitler was one of the best public speakers in dictator history. At least part of that was due to his timing. Before Hitler started to take power, public speaking was often an intellectual thing, filled with complex, lecture-like readings. Hitler’s performance, in contrast, was excited, emotive, and filled with slogans. In Richard J Evan’s The Coming of the Third Reich, he describes Hitler’s public speaking like so:


[Hitler] gained much of his oratorical success by telling his audiences what they wanted to hear. He used simple, straightforward language that ordinary people could understand, short sentences, powerful, emotive slogans. Often beginning a speech quietly, to capture his audience’s attention, he would gradually build to a climax, his deep, rather hoarse voice would rise in pitch, climbing in a crescendo to a ranting and screaming finale, accompanied by carefully rehearsed dramatic gestures…as he worked his audience into a frenzy emotion. There were no qualifications in what he said; everything was absolute, uncompromising, irrevocable, undeviating, unalterable, final…he exuded self-confidence, aggression, belief in the ultimate triumph of his party, even a sense of destiny.

Of course, Hitler’s speeches were all about rhetoric and absolution. While the content itself was horrible, he was undeniably good at getting people to agree with him—even when he was openly calling them stupid. Bruce Loebs, from the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Idaho State University points out that Hitler used a few tricks to get people on his side. These included arguments that used passion over reason, black and white reasoning as propaganda, and of course, repetition.

How you can use this: In some ways, Hitler’s speeches were similar to what we talked about when we showed you how to plant ideas into someone’s mind, but Hitler was far more over the top. Still, a lot can be learned from his speech style. Hitler was an obsessive editor of his speeches, and he consistently delivered them in plain language that everyone could understand. Keep this in mind when giving a presentation at work, raising office morale after a bad day, or even presenting an argument to a friend. Simplify your speech (as opposed to trying to sound smart), put some emotion into it, build up slowly, and you’ll have your audience eating out your hands. Photo by Liton All.


Learn From Experiences, Not Books

The Best Productivity Tricks Used By Evil Dictators

The strongest and longest lasting dictators embraced the idea of “practice makes perfect”, and put themselves on the front lines at some point in order to gain experience. Julius Caesar, for instance, fought on the front lines with soldiers, slept in the same beds, and learned from them before coming up with the quote, “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, of course, did the same thing as he worked his way through the French Revolution (before eventually installing himself as a dictator). Vladimir Lenin was extremely well read, but still spent his time practicing his craft, writing pamphlets, and talking with his people. Mao took this a step further and used his peasant upbringing not just as an excuse not to shower, but also as fuel for his control over peasents.

How you can use this: The point is that experience is far more necessary to get a job done well than a bunch of reading material. New experiences are important, and with deliberate practice you’ll eventually be the best you can be.


As we know, practical experience is often better than grades or books in the job market. Internships are more valuable than grades, because when you have experience—but no direct qualifications, you’re a better candidate for the job. Heck, even when we hire here at Lifehacker, having a personal blog of writing samples is far more useful than previous, irrelevant job experience. If you don’t have those types of experiences, make the experience yourself. Photo by @sculp_official.


The title image was illustrated by Dominick Rabrun. You can find his illustrations on his personal web site, or works in progress on his blog.

This Graphic Explains 20 Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Decision-Making

We all make bad decisions sometimes, but have you ever wondered what mental obstacles can lead you astray? This infographic goes over 20 of the most common cognitive biases that can mess with your head when it’s decision time.

Some of the cognitive biases on this graphic from Samantha Lee and Shana Lebowitz at Business Insider may sound pretty familiar. You’ve probably heard of the “placebo effect” and “confirmation bias” altering your perspective, but you may not have heard of other biases like “salience” or the “availability heuristic.” It’s not always easy, but identifying the causes of bad choices might help you prevent them in the future. With the information here you’ll at least have a better chance avoiding the “blind-spot bias,” which is the failing to recognize your own cognitive biases in the first place. You can read more at the link below.


20 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Decisions | Business Insider

This Graphic Explains 20 Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Decision-Making

Get Better at Saying “No” by Considering If You’d Do the Task Today

Get Better at Saying “No” by Considering If You'd Do the Task Today

It can be difficult to remember that saying yes to something means saying no to something else. To keep this in mind the next time someone approaches you with an opportunity, ask yourself, "If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?"

Think about how you plan to fit into your schedule, what you will probably need to give up or deprioritize, and whether or not it’s worth it. Ideally, this will help you immediately feel the eventual annoyance of obligation and prevent you from committing to something you wished you hadn’t.

Unfortunately, this question does break down if a task or commitment takes longer than a single day (although you could still pretend that today is Day 1 of a longer commitment and project it throughout the week or month). To help gauge interest, you could also consider whether your reaction is a moderate, "Yes," or a resounding, "Hell yeah!"

The power of saying no | Tim Harford

Photo by Robert Lowe.

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

The holidays are approaching, and the longer you and your significant other wait to plan, the harder they’ll be. Deciding which family to visit for the holidays can be a tug of war, but here are some tips to help you decide and make the holidays a little less stressful.

The Important Things You Should Both Consider

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

We may not always get along with our families in every way, but we love them and we want to see them during the holidays. There is only so many special days in the year and there is a lot of family for us to see. This can lead to couples butting heads about where they should go. The holidays bring stress to all of us in a lot of different ways, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. This is a good problem.

The fact that you even have this problem means you have someone to visit. Still, it’s tough to navigate and it can add tension to a happy time of the year. To keep things from getting crazy, here are some important factors you and your partner should consider:

  • Family dynamics: Are you and your partner’s parents together? Do they live in different cities? Would someone be especially hurt if you didn’t make it? Is there someone in the family that you or your partner do not get along with very well? Maybe there’s someone who’s getting older that you want to spend quality time with while you can. Take some time to really go over each side of your family and determine what’s feasible and comfortable for both of you.
  • Budget: What can you afford to do? If one side of the family is on the other end of the country, that’s a much bigger financial commitment than, say, driving an hour down the road. Seeing family is important, but you don’t want to break the bank just to spend a couple days with them, especially when you can do it for much less at another time during the year.
  • Time: How much time do you or your partner get away from work? Is it even possible to see both sides of the family?
  • Fairness: Do you see one side of the family way more than the other on a regular basis? If so, the holidays might be a good time to make up for some lost time.

Remember, you’re both in this together, and the best outcome is one that appeases both of you one way or another. This feels like a big decision because so much pressure is put on us during the holidays, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t make it to all sides of the family. What’s important is that you and your partner come to an agreement without resenting each other.

Don’t Commit to Anything Right Away

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

Chances are you’ll get calls from all sides of your family asking what your plan is, but giving a flat yes or no will likely get you in trouble. Either you’ll aggravate your partner for not checking with them first, or you’ll disappoint your relatives when you end up changing plans. Sharon Naylor at wedding blog Bridal Guide recommends holding off on any definitive commitments:

If parents start calling now to ask if you’ll be at Christmas or other holiday events, don’t give an immediate answer. Use this smart stall tactic: "I have to talk with (spouse) so that we can make a plan that works best for everyone." It’s not okay to say "yes" to the first family that calls, then tell the second family—who doesn’t start planning Christmas in November—that they missed the boat. That sets up a competition that stresses out parents, hurts their ability to blend in with the other side of the family (if they see them as trying to ‘steal you’ for holidays), and sets a precedent that’s really hard to break.

Be diplomatic about holiday inquiries and nicely explain that you and your significant other haven’t decided yet. In fact, you may be better off keeping things loosey goosey until the holiday is much closer. Yes, it’s polite to let your hosts know as soon as possible, but it’s much worse to make them prepare for your arrival and cancel.

Talk to Both Sides of the Family

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

Sometimes all of the stress that comes from this decision is created in your head. It’s possible that both sides of the family are indifferent about where you actually end up as long as they get to see you at some point. Ask them how they feel about the holiday in question. Which holiday is the most important to you or your partner’s parents?

Maybe they have plans of their own and you’re not included, or maybe grandma actually hates hosting Christmas every year. Take the time to speak with each side of the family and really get a feel for what their perspective is. You may not hear what you expected, but no matter what, there will be a little less stress because everyone will be on the same page.

Communicate What’s Important and Pick Your Battles

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

Everyone attaches certain feelings and memories with different holidays, but not all of them are necessarily your favorite. Maybe seeing fireworks with your mom and dad is your favorite holiday tradition, or maybe you hate thanksgiving at home because your siblings drive you nuts. Writer Sara Goas at the Examiner suggests picking your battles wisely:

Decide which holidays are more important to you. Is Christmas your favorite day of the year, or do you prefer Thanksgiving? Does your grandmother come up from Florida for her once-a-year visit to spend Christmas with you? When you’ve taken the time to prioritize your holidays, it’s easier to split up the time. Once you’ve decided which holidays are important to you, find out which days are most important to your spouse. Divide accordingly; for example, agree to spend Thanksgiving with his family, if he’ll promise you’ll go to your parents’ house for Christmas.

Be open about what holidays you like and what specific traditions are the most important to you. There’s still a good chance that you’ll both like the same holidays, but it’s important to communicate how you feel so you can decide how to split them or trade them off. Who knows, maybe it’ll work out perfectly so no one has to miss their favorite family tradition. If not, you at least know what aspects of the holiday are important to your partner so you can make it more comfortable and welcoming for them.

Celebrate the Holiday Another Time

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

There never seems to be enough time when you’re visiting family, but a little is better than none. If both families are close enough together, consider splitting the day in half. Take the morning and midday to be with one side, then make your way to the other family for the afternoon and evening. For food-oriented holidays like Thanksgiving, this can be hard to do, but everyone will be happy to see you even if it’s just for a little while.

You can also use time to your advantage by deciding with your family when the holiday will actually take place. Spend one day with one family and then pick another day to celebrate with the other family. Who says you can’t have two Thanksgivings? Most of the time nobody will care if it’s not on the actual holiday if it means they get to see you. If they do, switch out who gets the real holiday every year.

Give Your Relationship the Tie-Breaking Vote

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

If you and your partner can’t see eye to eye, something has to break the tie. Holidays are supposed to be a happy time, but clashing with your significant other is an easy way to turn it all into a negative experience. On their advice blog, the eHarmony staff suggest giving your relationship the third vote:

When you two are having trouble making a good and fair decision on an issue like this, keep in mind that there are three votes to be considered: one for you, one for your partner, and one for the relationship. You should each get a chance to make a case for your own position, but then make sure that your relationship also gets a vote—and this vote breaks the tie. By doing this, you’ll emphasize the fact that you’re on the same team and that your commitment to each other is more important than your individual agendas.

That means that you might have to show that your relationship is more important than getting what you want this time. Strong relationships sometimes require sacrifices, so in a stalemate consider putting the relationship first and taking one for the team. Someone has to give and hopefully either you or your partner can look beyond their own wants and recognize what will be the best for you as a couple.

Host the Holidays Yourself or Go Your Own Way

How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays

If the pressure to decide is too much, change up the whole equation instead. Host the holidays at your own place if you have the room and announce that anyone who wants to come is welcome. Hosting can mean a completely different kind of stress, but you get out of the mess of trying to decide where you’re going, who you’re staying with, whether you can make it to both, and so on. You may even be able to bring both sides of the family together for once and start a great new tradition that involves everyone.

If you can’t decide and hosting isn’t your bag, ditch the family and do your own thing. Spend the money that was going to go toward travel and head somewhere exciting you both have been dying to visit. Or maybe just stay put at home and start creating your own traditions together. It’s possible you’ll be starting a family with your partner, so get the ball rolling on memories and traditions your future family will grow up with. Just tell your families that you need some time to yourselves and that you’ll visit them soon when the holiday hustle and bustle has disappeared.

Bonus: Take This Quiz

If you’re feeling adventurous—or still need some way to break the tie—this couple’s quiz from Becky Lang at weblog The Tangential assigns points to various family traits or events that have happened throughout the year. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. Feel free to create a more personal quiz for you and your partner based off this structure.

Don’t let this kind of decision become a fight. In the end, it’s about doing the best you can to make everybody happy, including yourself. Be honest and open with your partner so they can do the same with you, and hopefully you’ll find the best way to solve this classic dilemma together.

Photos by Nikiforov Alexander (Shutterstock), Elvert Barnes, Monik Markus, Christopher, Robert W. Howington, Dafne Cholet, Roxanna Salceda, Natesh Ramasamy.

Avoid Decision Fatigue at Restaurants: Have Friends Order Your Food

Avoid Decision Fatigue at Restaurants: Have Friends Order Your Food

Even if you aren’t on a diet, you might have trouble picking out food to order at a restaurant. You’ve got so many choices. If you’re dining with friends, let someone else make the decision for you.

Over at Science of Us, sometimes you might let your friends pick what to eat:

I started doing that when I learned that agonizing over decisions can be stressful. And in the restaurant scenario, the consequences of what you eventually choose are not that different from a different option you might have chosen.It’s never backfired — I always select people who I believe have my best interests at heart, and who know I need lots of protein. I don’t really ever dine alone, but I do often ask the staff for their recommendations.

This tip not only reduced decision fatigue that zaps your willpower but lets your friend keep you accountable for your healthy eating choices.

Let Your Friends Order Your Food | Science of Us

Photo by John Seb Barber.

Use the 10-10-10 Rule to Make Better Decisions

Use the 10-10-10 Rule to Make Better Decisions

You have to make some difficult decisions through the course of your life. Business writer and author Suzy Welch suggests making that call by using the 10-10-10 rule to get your priorities in order first.

In her book 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family, Welch writes:

Every time I find myself in a situation where there appears to be no solution that will make everyone happy, I ask myself three questions:

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?
  • In 10 months?
  • And in 10 years?

The way the brain works, your decisions are rooted in feelings, and the long-term considerations should help in making those clear. Welch says that with the answers, you will figure out if the decision is aligned with your priorities, or maybe even discover your priorities in the process. The clarity of thought also makes it easy to explain the choice to those who will feel its impact.

How to make smart, fast decisions (that you’ll still be happy with in 10 years!) | Popforms

Photo by andronicusmax.

Make Better Decisions by Pausing Just a Fraction of a Second

Make Better Decisions by Pausing Just a Fraction of a Second

It’s usually wise to take time to deliberate before you make decisions, but did you know that even the briefest of pauses—in milliseconds—can stop you from making errors in everyday life?

That’s the news from recent research reported by Psych Central. In the first experiment, the volunteers were shown randomly moving dots on a monitor and had to judge as quickly or as accurately as possible which way the dots were moving overall. In the second, they had to do the same, except they were given between 17 and 500 milliseconds to respond.

The researchers likened the experiment to real-world situations like driving, when you often have to make split-second decisions. They found it takes only about 120 milliseconds for the brain to shift focus and block out distractions, and concluded that even the slightest pauses can improve decision making.

Pausing is a good strategy for becoming a better parent as well as making big financial decisions . It turns out, you might not even have to wait very long at all.

Slight Delay Can Make for Better Decisions | Psych Central

Photo by asthenop.

The Neuroscience of How We Make Decisions Summed Up in 30 Seconds

The Neuroscience of How We Make Decisions Summed Up in 30 Seconds

The process our brain goes through when we make decisions is incredibly complicated and has all kinds of factors behind it. That said, if you’re looking for a quick summation of what happens in your brain when you make a decision, Wired has you covered.

In a new book called 30-Second Brain, writer science Christian Jarrett explains how the brain comes to a decision with a quick story:

From Plato’s charioteer controlling the horse of passion, to Freud’s instinctual id suppressed by the ego, there’s a long tradition of seeing reason and emotion as being in opposition to one another. Translating this perspective to neuroscience, one might imagine that successful decision making depends on the rational frontal lobes controlling the animalistic instincts arising from emotional brain regions that evolved earlier (including the limbic system, found deeper in the brain). But the truth is quite different—effective decision making is not possible without the motivation and meaning provided by emotional input. Consider Antonio Damasio’s patient, "Elliott." Previously a successful businessman, Elliott underwent neurosurgery for a tumor and lost a part of his brain—the orbitofrontal cortex—that connects the frontal lobes with the emotions. He became a real life Mr. Spock, devoid of emotion. But rather than this making him perfectly rational, he became paralyzed by every decision in life. Damasio later developed the somatic marker hypothesis to describe how visceral emotion supports our decisions. For instance, he showed in a card game that people’s fingers sweat prior to picking up from a losing pile, even before they recognize at a conscious level that they’ve made a bad choice.

Basically, feelings lay the groundwork for reason. We know that because brain-damaged patients who don’t have emotions can’t make decisions. We’ve seen how emotions affect decisions in all kinds of ways , but it’s nice to see it summed up so succinctly.

The Neuroscience of Decision Making Explained in 30 Seconds | Wired

Photo by Duncan Hall