decision making


Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Sleep deprivation can threaten competent decision-making

An imaging study follows research showing that sleep-deprived participants engaged in a gambling task choose higher-risk decks and exhibit reduced concern for negative consequences. The study reveals that sleep deprived adults asked to make decisions in a gambling task show higher selective activity in the nucleus accumbens (involved with the anticipation of reward), and reduced activity in the insula (involved with evaluating the emotional significance of an event). The findings help explain why we make poorer decisions when sleep deprived.

Venkatraman, V., Chuah, Y.M.L., Huettel, S.A. & Chee, M.W.L. 2007. Sleep Deprivation Elevates Expectation of Gains and Attenuates Response to Losses Following Risky Decisions. Sleep, 30 (5), 603-609.

Exercise improves attention and decision-making among seniors

An imaging study involving adults ranging in age from 58 to 78 before and after a six-month program of aerobic exercise, found specific functional differences in the middle-frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain that changed with improved aerobic fitness. Consistent with the functions of these brain regions, those who participated in the aerobic-exercise intervention significantly improved their performance on a computer-based decision-making task. Those doing toning and stretching exercises did increase activation in some areas of the brain but not in those tied to better performance. Their performance on the task was not significantly different after the exercise program. The aerobic exercise used in the study involved gradually increasing periods of walking over three months. For the final three months of the intervention program, each subject walked briskly for 45 minutes in three sessions each week.

Colcombe, S.J., Kramer, A.F., Erickson, K.I., Scalf, P., McAuley, E., Cohen, N.J., Webb, A., Jerome, G.J., Marquez, D.X. & Elavsky, S. 2004. Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. PNAS, 101, 3316-3321. Published online before print as 10.1073/pnas.0400266101

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It’s not the noise in the brain; it’s the noise in the input

A new study has found that errors in perceptual decisions occurred only when there was confused sensory input, not because of any ‘noise’ or randomness in the cognitive processing. The finding, if replicated across broader contexts, will change some of our fundamental assumptions about how the brain works.




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Temperature affects your ability to make decisions

Matching patterns of sales data for lottery games in one American county for a year against daily temperature has revealed that sales for scratch tickets (many options to select) fell by nearly $600 with every 1° Fahrenheit increase in temperature. On the other hand, sales for lotto tickets, which require fewer decisions, were not affected.




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Two heads are not always better than one

September, 2010

A study of joint decision-making has found collaborative decisions are better, unless one of the individuals is unknowingly working with flawed information.

There’s been a lot of discussion, backed by some evidence, that groups are ‘smarter’ than the individuals in them, that groups make better decisions than individuals. But it is not, of course, as simple as that, and a recent study speaks to the limits of this principle. The study involved pairs of volunteers who were asked to detect a very weak signal that was shown on a computer screen. If they disagreed about when the signal occurred, then they talked together until they agreed on a joint decision. The results showed that joint decisions were better than the decision made by the better-performing individual (as long as they could talk it over).

However, when one of the participants was sometimes surreptitiously made incompetent by being shown a noisy image in which the signal was much more difficult to see, the joint decisions were worse than the decisions of the better performing partner. In other words, working with others can have a detrimental effect if one person is working with flawed information, or is incompetent but doesn't know it. Successful group decision-making and problem-solving requires the participants to be able to accurately judge their level of confidence.


[1801] Bahrami, B., Olsen K., Latham P. E., Roepstorff A., Rees G., & Frith C. D.
(2010).  Optimally Interacting Minds.
Science. 329(5995), 1081 - 1085.




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