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Decision-making unveiled

Department of Neuroscience professor A. David Redish, Ph.D., discusses his new book, The Mind Within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How Those Decisions Go Wrong. It’s available through Amazon and Oxford University Press.

Q: How do the decision-making systems in our brains work?

A: There are multiple decision-making systems that work in tandem with each other. They can be separated based on the information processing that they do. In the book, I lay out four actionselection systems—a deliberation system, a procedural (think sports) system, a Pavlovian or emotional system, and (since any action is a decision) your reflexes.

Q: How did you find these insights?

A: A large part for me personally has been the work that’s been done in my lab and others over the last few years looking at how nonhuman animals, rats in our case, make decisions. These animals make decisions in ways that are remarkably close to humans. For example, we now know that rats can deliberate over choices, imagining the possibilities and evaluating those possibilities. Because we’ve been able to see the actual information processing happening in these animals, we’ve been able to connect that to how humans seem to be making decisions.

Q: How did using multiple disciplines help lead to these conclusions?

A: Decision-making is a very large field, with contributions from fields including psychology, robotics, economics, neuroscience, neuroeconomics, and computational psychiatry. Each of these fields has a different set of tools that allows a different perspective on the problem. What’s remarkable (I think) is how similar the conclusions have been from these different perspectives.

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