Scientists are taking more of an interest in “decision neuroscience” as they try to decipher what exactly is going on in our brains while we’re making choices.
Early research reveals it may be possible to divide the complexity of thinking into individual parts, and in doing so, determine how each component is integrated as we think and make decisions.
Researchers in decision neuroscience recently took part in a discussion about their work and how this cutting-edge field came to be. They believe this branch of neuroscience may significantly advance our understanding of the brain as well as give more insight into a variety of mental disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
“For many psychiatric disorders, patients that are symptomatic are frequently making poor decisions about numerous things throughout the day, such as how they handle their anxiety and other emotional states,” said C. Daniel Salzman, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University School of Medicine.
“If you’ve ever had a friend or family member with depression, you can see they are not making decisions the way they normally do. So there clearly has to be dysfunction in the neurocircuits of psychiatric patients affecting their decisions, and we need to understand this better in order to come up with better treatments for mental disorders.”
Another participant pointed out that this research is already deepening our understanding of these disorders.
“Our new knowledge about the cellular and circuit mechanisms of working memory and decision processes in the brain has already had a significant impact on clinical studies of mental illness,” said Xiao-Jing Wang, PhD, Department of Neurobiology, Physics and Psychology; Director, Swartz Program in Theoretical Neurobiology; Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine.
“For instance, addiction is fundamentally a problem of making bad choices, resulting from impaired reward signaling and decision-making circuits in the brain. Understanding these circuits has become key to linking genes and molecules with behavior in clinical studies.”
One important goal, according to Daeyeol Lee, PhD, Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine, is understanding the neurobiological basis for individual variability while making decisions.
“When people face the same decision, they tend to make different choices,” said Lee. “Some of that is due to their different experiences and learning environment. There are also fundamental genetic differences that give rise to different decision making styles. Getting a better understanding of the neurobiological basis for those individual differences in decision making will have enormous implications. It can explain a lot of problems in our society, including differences in the tendency to develop psychiatric illnesses.”
Source: The Kavli Foundation