Science 3 min read

How Brain Fluctuations Affect our Decision-Making Process

Suphaksorn Thongwongboot /

Suphaksorn Thongwongboot /

Scientists have discovered a link between brain fluctuations and the changing levels of dopamine. In their paper published in the journal PNAS, they explored how these two factors impact how we make risky decisions.

As humans, we can be inconsistent, and sometimes, erratic. It explains why we could make one decision today only to change our mind the next day.

Researchers have long struggled to explain this inconsistent human behavior. In other words, why do we make erratic decisions?

Co-author of the study and University London College researcher, Dr. Tobias Hauser, said in a statement:

“We know that the brain is constantly active, even when we aren’t doing anything, so we wondered if this background activity affects our decision-making.”

The researchers hypothesized that our inconsistent behavior could partly be explained by what our brain is doing when we aren’t doing anything. So, they decided to test this hypothesis.

Brain Fluctuations When We’re Not Doing Anything

Hauser and his team focused on people that are at rest – awake but not doing anything. Our brain remains active in this state, with strong fluctuation activities that scientists have never been able to explain.

For the study, the researchers got 43 people to complete a gambling task while in an MRI scanner. The participants had to pick between a safe option of gambling to gain a small sum of money or a riskier option of gambling to get a large amount of money.

If they chose the risky option and lost, they wouldn’t receive any monetary reward. The researchers observed the brain activity in the dopaminergic midbrain – the part of the brain that contains the most dopamine neuron – during this decision-making process.

Before the researchers presented the gambling option, they noted a low fluctuation activity in this area of the brain. After the presentation, the participants that were likely to pick the riskier gambling option displayed high activity in the dopaminergic midbrain, even though they were lying idle in the scanner.

Senior author Dr. Robb Rutledge of UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology explained:

“Our brains may have evolved to have spontaneous fluctuations in a key brain area for decision making because it makes us more unpredictable and better able to cope with a changing world.”

The researchers admitted that further study is required to understand other possible impacts of variations in background brain activity. They also want to find the link between spontaneous brain fluctuations and health conditions such as pathological gambling.

Our findings underscore the importance of taking time when making important decisions, as you might make a different decision if you just wait a few minutes,” said co-lead author Ph.D. student Benjamin Chew.

Read More: Excellence in General Knowledge Means Your Brain is Efficiently Wired

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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