- Published8 May 2023
- Author Marissa Fessenden
- Source BrainFacts/SfN
You make many different types of decisions every day. Some of these rely primarily on logical reasoning — for example, when you compare the timetables for the bus and subway to determine the quickest way to get to a friend’s house. Other decisions have emotional consequences at stake, like when the person you’re trying to impress offers you a cigarette — your desire to be accepted might outweigh your rational consideration of smoking’s harms.
Decision-making requires a person to weigh values, understand rules, make plans, and form predictions about the outcomes of their choices. Both logical reasoning and emotional (affective) decision-making involve the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC). In particular, activity in the lateral PFC is especially important in overriding emotional responses during decision-making. The area’s strong connections with brain regions related to motivation and emotion, such as the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, seem to exert a sort of top-down control over emotional and impulsive responses. For example, brain imaging studies have found the lateral PFC is more active in people declining a small monetary reward given immediately in favor of receiving a larger reward in the future. This is one of the last areas of the brain to mature — usually in a person’s late 20s — which explains why teens sometimes may have trouble regulating emotions or controlling impulses.
The orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the PFC located just behind the eyes, also appears to be important in affective decision-making, especially in situations involving reward and punishment. The area has been implicated in addiction as well as social behavior.
Adapted from the 8th edition of Brain Facts by Marissa Fessenden.
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