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Scientists discover brain waves behind indecisiveness

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Posted August 24, 2015

From time to time all people face a situation when it is difficult to make decisions. Now scientists at the University of Zurich have conducted a study to find out the mechanisms in the brain behind indecisiveness. It turns out, it is caused by the communication issues between different regions of the brain. However, this study still will not help you decide which outfit you want to wear in the evening out or which meal you want to eat from the menu.

Scientists found that preference based decisions rely on communication between two brain areas – the prefrontal cortex located directly below the forehead and the parietal cortex just above both ears. More objective, sensory decisions are not so much dependent on this communication. Image credit: mediadesk.uzh.ch

Scientists found that preference based decisions rely on communication between two brain areas – the prefrontal cortex located directly below the forehead and the parietal cortex just above both ears. More objective, sensory decisions are not so much dependent on this communication. Image credit: mediadesk.uzh.ch

We all have faced the situations in which we simply cannot make a decision. Sometimes it is about actually difficult situations and decisions might change the course of our lives. But usually these are very simple situations at the shops or at the restaurant. We stare endlessly at the menu or at the shelves not able to choose.  Now scientists think they figured it out – decisions where you have to show preference (like, which meal you like more) are much harder to make than sensory decisions (for example, which thing looks bigger, weighs more and so on).

However, we know that some people are so much more certain about most decisions they make, while others struggle even making the smallest ones. Now scientists set out to figure out mechanisms in the brain responsible for such indecisiveness. Surprisingly, they found that the precision and stability of decisions about preferences do not depend on the strength of the activation of one or more brain regions only. In fact, stability and precision of preference decisions depends on the communication between two areas of the brain. These brain areas represent our preferences or are involved in spatial orientation and action planning.

In order to study how indecisiveness as a process looks in our brain, scientists used transcranial alternating current stimulation, which is a non-invasive brain stimulation method. It allows for generation of coordinated oscillations in the activity of particular brain regions.

People, participating in the study, did not know they were being stimulated. As an experiment, scientists used this transcranial alternating current stimulation technique in order to intensify or reduce the information flow between the prefrontal cortex located directly below the forehead and the parietal cortex just above both ears. Then they asked participants to make preference-based or purely sensory decisions about food.

Professor Christian Ruff, lead author of the study explained the results of such experiments – “We discovered that preference-based decisions were less stable if the information flow between the two brain regions was disrupted. Our test subjects were therefore more indecisive. For the purely sensory decisions, however, there was no such effect”.

It means that the communication between said brain regions is only relevant for those decisions where we have to decide what we like more – like when we are deciding on what clothing we are going to wear that day. And not so relevant in making more objective, sensory decisions.  Although typically we think that women are more prone to indecisiveness, scientists found no evidence of any gender-specific effects in these experiments.

However, do not hope that these findings will help you cope with your problems of indecisiveness. Scientists found that it was impossible to make decisions more stable by intensifying the information flow. Test subjects were young, healthy test subjects with highly developed decision-making skills, which could mean that they were capable of making decisions by themselves without much difficulty. But these results are not necessarily just interesting without any practical application. Scientists are hoping that this new knowledge will help creating new therapies for people who suffer from a high degree of impulsiveness and indecisiveness in the aftermath of brain disorders.

Source: UZH

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