Research sheds new light on the fundamentals of how and why we make the decisions we do

Research from our Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Elsa Fouragnan has helped to discover exactly what happens in the brains of human and non-human primates when certain kinds of decisions are made in different contexts.

The decisions we make are influenced by the context in which they take place, and our perceptions of their outcomes are also seen through the same lens.

Dr Fouragnan explained:

“To give a simple example, in a context where punishment is regularly experienced, if nothing happens that might be seen as a good thing. On the other hand, in a context where normally many good things occur, nothing happening would be viewed as negative.”

Using fMRI and computational modelling, the study found that another key area of the brain involved in decision-making, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, not only played a role in calculating the values of the options being considered, but also displayed different activity depending on whether the subject was in explorative or exploitative mode. This showed, according to the researchers, that this part of the brain has a unique role in representing the beliefs that guide choices.

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