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Is there no such thing as an objective decision?

The amygdala area of the brain is known to generate feelings. It is the emotional part of the brain, generating such responses as fear and desire.

The prefrontal cortex, sometimes referred to as a manager, houses the executive functions and is considered the thinking part of the brain. You might expect it to be the decision-maker.

And it is. But it works in conjunction with the more intuitive amygdala, which draws on past experiences and feelings to influence the decision. After receiving input from the amygdala and other brain areas, the resulting decision may not appear so logical if you consider only the facts relevant to the situation in question.

According to John Lehrer, in his book, How we decide, the prefrontal cortex is linked to just about every brain area, and considers all feedback before making a decision. But no decision can be completely objective – at least not as far as other people are concerned – since we all have our own realities, values, beliefs and past experiences.

Probably more areas of the brain are involved in the decision-making process than even the neuroscientists are aware of. And perhaps without mirror neurons, which reside in many parts of the brain and help us to emphasize with one another, we would never agree on anything.

As Jonah Lehrer, author of How we decide, says, “Intuition isn’t a miraculous cure all. Sometimes the feelings can lead us astray and causes us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes.” He goes on to say that the “reptilian brain” is fighting the frontal lobes.

When it comes to decisions, sometimes the emotional part of the brain can take charge. It has been shown, for instance, that we can react to the presence of an unseen snake fractions of a second before we are even conscious of its presence. The brain’s priority seems to be to minimize danger and to maximize reward.

Since few, if any of us, have had similar past experiences, it is unlikely that we would all agree on a decision made by a group. As Charles Jacobs says in his book, Management rewired, “if we use logic to influence people unconsciously driven by emotion, we probably aren’t going to be very successful in getting them to embrace our point of view.”

According to a Canadian press article appearing in the March 23, 2017 issue of, emotion colors the meaning we give to things. This supports the opinion of Princeton political scientist Larry Bartel, who was quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s book as saying that voters invent facts or ignore facts so they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.

If I am reading the brain research correctly it would appear as though we should try to avoid snap decisions on important issues, allowing the executive center of our brain to moderate emotional impulses. It would also appear that we should involve other people with different experiences in our decision-making process to compensate for our own biases. And we should go so far as to seek out different points of view. But when instant decisions are critical, such in the case of a wall about to collapse, trust your instincts. After all, that part of the brain is programmed for survival, and you have to survive if you want to make more decisions in the future.

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How to make good decisions


Slow decision-making wastes time, as do spur-of-the moment decisions, which frequently result in costly and time-consuming mistakes. But the worst thing you can do is to procrastinate on decision-making. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, once conducted a survey of successful people and found all of them were decisive. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. We learn from our mistakes; but if we do nothing, we neither accomplish anything nor learn anything.

Delay until you have enough information; but don’t wait until you have all the information. If you have all the information, the course of action becomes a foregone conclusion: no real decision is necessary. Have the courage to make decisions with only 70% to 80% of the facts. When you have mulled over the facts and considered, the alternatives, sleep on it if an immediate decision isn’t required. Spend time in proportion to the importance of the decision. For instance, don’t waste a lot of time discussing the menu for the staff Christmas party. The decision to close down an operation or expand the product line warrants a greater expenditure of that costly commodity call time. Make minor decisions quickly. If the consequence of the decision is not important, it is not worth much of your valuable time. Spend time in proportion to the importance of the decision.

If the decision is yours alone to make, and you seem to get bogged down in the process, and get frustrated by your lack of progress, it’s frequently faster in the long run to leave the problem for a short period of time. Work on some unrelated jobs for a few hours or even a few days and then tackle the problem anew. The change in pace will revitalize your thinking. But delay it only once or you will be tempted to procrastinate.

In some cases it might be better to leave the problem until the next day. Your brain never stops working, and it has been shown that people make better decisions in the morning.

Always make short-term decisions with long-term objectives in mind. Don’t make a band aid decision that solves the immediate problem, but results in time-consuming problems further down the road.

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Important decisions are best made off-line.

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According to Gayatri Devi, author of A Calm Brain (Plume, 2012), your core brain has the ability to quickly and accurately read and respond to the emotions of others. Your rational frontal lobes may be fooled by polite laughter or phony tears or any false display of emotions; but your core brain is much harder to deceive.

True emotions are picked up by the core brain from the other person’s cluster of cells that Harvard neuroscientist Clifford Saper calls “pattern generators.” If someone’s laughs are genuine, for instance, there is a pattern of telltale signs, including crinkling of muscles around the eyes, certain throat sounds and widening of the mouth, which reveal the laughter is genuine.

That’s why face-to-face interactions are much better than online relationships in order for the core brain to do its job. So if you are negotiating an important deal, meeting with a prospective client or engaging in an online romance, it’s wise to go back to the basics. Good old-fashioned face to face encounters, whether business or personal, should never be completely abandoned.

The prefrontal cortex, with its executive function and its skills in logic and planning has been getting a lot of press in the scientific journals these days. But the core brain, frequently referred to as the reptilian or primitive brain, not only controls the bodily functions that keep you alive and healthy, it also senses danger before your highly developed frontal lobes are even aware of it.

For instance, Mark Bowden in his book, Tame the primitive brain, explains that the primitive or core brain can pick up the heat of a hotplate before you actually touch it. In fact, before the core brain even gets the message, a reflex action is prompted by the spinal cord that causes your hand to jerk away. So thinking part of your brain isn’t the first one to get the message. That’s the core brain insuring your survival.

However, the core brain uses the senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch – and responds accordingly – a knee jerk reaction that sends a message of caution to the thinking part of your brain.

When interacting with other people, information is gathered from such things as body language, tone and voice reflection as well as the words spoken. Corresponding via email or social media or chat rooms is fine when things of little consequence are discussed. But it will never replace personal one-on-one interaction when decisions of importance are to be made.