Confidence Starts In The Brain
December 10, 2012

Study Shines Light On The Biology Of Confident Decision Making

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

If it seems as though some people are more confident in the decisions that they make than others, it's because of differences in how their brains are wired, a team of UK researchers have discovered.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Professor Ray Dolan and colleagues from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London (UCL) have pinpointed the specific regions of the brain that work together to determine both the value of the choices a person faces and the individual's confidence in those choices.

"Throughout life, we're constantly evaluating our options and making decisions based on the information we have available. How confident we are in those decisions has clear consequences. For example, investment bankers have to be confident that they're making the right choice when deciding where to put their clients' money," the researchers explained in a December 9 statement.

Dolan's team recruited 20 hungry volunteers, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brains' activity as they selected the food items that they would eat in the near future.

Each subject was asked to place a dollar value on the amount that he or she would be willing to pay for the various snacks (in order to determine the subjective value of each item). After they made their selection, the participants were then asked to rate their confidence level that they had chosen the best culinary option.

"It has previously been shown that a region at the front of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is important for working out the value of decision options. The new findings reveal that the level of activity in this area is also linked to the level of confidence participants placed on choosing the best option," the researchers said.

"The study also shows that the interaction between this area of the brain and an adjacent area reflects participants' ability to access and report their level of confidence in their choices," they added.

Study participant Dr. Steve Fleming, who is now affiliated with New York University, said that their research showed that a person's confidence level varied from one decision to another.

Likewise, UCL's Dr. Benedetto De Martino added that the team's findings provided both "an initial account both of how people make choices" as well as "their insight into the decision process."