How Our Brains Make the Best Decisions

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Some tech moguls famously sidestep decision fatigue by dressing in the same outfit every day. Unfortunately, that's hardly available for every choice out there. We all have to make hundreds of decisions every day: left or right, salad or fries, happy hour or Netflix at home. With that much practice, you'd think choosing would get easier, but new research shows us why it's actually not.


Neuroscientists at Switzerland's University of Geneva have just released a study on how our brains optimize decision-making. More specifically, the team wanted to know why it's so much harder to make a choice when the options presented are basically similar. It's why most of us know immediately whether we'd choose to buy glittery knee-high boots or comfortable sneakers, but we vacillate between two different brown jackets of a slightly different cut.

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It turns out our brains are doing a kind of mathematics before we settle on a decision. We rely on memories to make choices, believe it or not: By amassing the "value" of each item and comparing the two values, we can decide on the more valuable item. There's a certain threshold of value in our mind's eye. When there's less of a difference between your options, however, "the decision rests on the difference between the cumulative value of each choice and the average value of the accumulated values over all the choices."


In other words, don't get too down on yourself if you're slow to decide on which salad toppings you want. Your brain is doing a lot of work to get you there.