Decision Making

Better Decision Making – Nancy

Better decision making is important for many people dealing with how moods can influence our choices.

How much self-control do you have?  Do you make the decisions you really want to make?  A new field of brain science is discovering how people make decisions, and how they utilize self-control to make better decisions.  A recent article in Medical Xpress included an informative interview with  ASU Associate Professor of Psychology Samuel McClure and researcher Ian Ballard about their recent study titled “More is meaningful: The magnitude effect in intertemporal choice depends on self-control,” published in the journal Psychological Science.

McClure and Ballard are particularly interested in the use of neuroimaging to map an experimental subject’s brain activity during an exercise, rather than the more traditional behavioral experiments, which may not clarify the actual work of the brain in, in this case, decision making.

As the Medical Xpress article describes:  “they first asked a group of subjects to make a choice between a small amount of money now or a large amount of money later. They found that not only did the pre-frontal cortex area of the subjects’ brains—the area thought to be responsible for engaging self-control—show heightened activity when making the decision, but that the activity was even greater when the option of a larger reward was introduced, a phenomenon known as the magnitude effect.”

In repeated iterations of the scenario, they found that participants’ willingness to wait for a larger reward lessened when they reported feeling hunger, and increased when they were asked to explain or justify their decision.  In each case, neuroimaging showed increasred activity in the pre-frontal cortex area of the subjects’ brains, and that the activity was even greater when the reward was higher.

McClure and Ballard believe that these results have broad implications for ways that we might be able to manipulate the environment to support people in making the decisions they want to make to improve their lives, and in resisting impulse decisions that they may regret later on.

For individuals, the implications may be simpler and closer to home: if we want to increase our self-control, we can, by taking the time to consider the magnitude of the choice and its consequences, and by reminding ourselves to justify a choice before making it final. Even mentally rehearsing a conversation with someone we trust about the choice may help us to make wiser choices.



Ballard IC, Kim B, Liatsis A, Aydogan G, Cohen JD, McClure SM. More Is Meaningful: The Magnitude Effect in Intertemporal Choice Depends on Self-Control. Psychol Sci. 2017 Aug 1:956797617711455. doi: 10.1177/0956797617711455. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28858559.