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Decision Making

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Decision making

From the moment we were born, we are making decisions. As babies, we needed to decide whether we want to use crying as a meanings of making requests. As children, we needed to decide to do well in homework or just have fun watching TV. As young adults, we are making decisions all the time such as which courses to take, and which career to choose as a life-long field. Decision making is a mental cognitive process, resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternatives.Therefore, decisions come from interactions between consciousness and unconsciousness.

A decision-making process maybe more complicated than you think. Human performance in decision-making can be examined from several perspectives. From a psychological perspective, individual decisions in the context of a set of needs, which explain the preferences an individual has and the values they seek. This perspective focused on deeper hidden desires, unconsciousness. From a cognitive  perspective, the decision making process must be regarded as a continuous process integrated in interaction with the environment. This way of thinking about decisions involves coordination between consciousness and unconsciousness. From a third normative perspective, the analysis of individual decisions focused on logic of decision making and rationality and the invariant choice it leads to. From this point of view, decisions are more about the consciousness which includes our internalization of social norms.

In the study, published in Nature Neuroscience, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens in the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made. The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take up to seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. This study suggested that our decisions were made before we became aware of.

What is my role in decision making? I made the most significant decision about a year ago of my life so far: whether I should come to America for my higher education? My consciousness told me that being away from home would result in many difficulties, such as culture shock, getting in to a new society, pursuing an academic career in a completely different environment and lifestyles, etc.  I made all these judgments based on my experiences and my knowledge about the outside world. This part of the brain process involves more about the reasonable and rational thinking. The possible outcome analysis is based on larger social context.

On the other hand, my unconsciousness was telling me that going to a new place and starting over had always been my wish. I always wanted to do something more fun and the risky. Despite the hidden desire, I have been living my life in conventional way and afraid to change the situation that what comes naturally, such as following the pathways most people chose to go to a college in China. This par to f possibilities comes from my deeper “selfish” personal desire which allow me let go all the responsibility associated with my multiple social roles.

According to the normative theory of decision-making, we use our consciousness and unconsciousness to analyze the situation ahead and list out the possibilities can be resulted from options. Before any decision was made, we tend to find the solution which brings the best outcome. We will think thoroughly and find the decision can minimize the disadvantages.

But then –as the cognitive process- the unconscious kicks in. If my consciousness tells me that studying abroad is risky and the future will be unknown, maybe I can work harder to avoid getting into the state of unemployment. If my unconsciousness tells me that this is the selfish desire and maybe unrealistic, maybe I can manage to keep in mind that I should be constantly aware of the risks ant not falling in the unrealistic daydreams all day long. My consciousness and unconsciousness can work together to minimize the side effects of the decision.

In the end, I declared my decision and decided to come to America for further personal development. My consciousness keeps me work hard to exercise my responsibility as a student. At the same time, my unconsciousness inspires me to explore more aspects of my life and try new things

 Decision making is a tough task for everyone because you will never how will your plan turn out and the outcome of your decision might not be 100% depend on your actions. All we can do is to make the best predictions on from consciousness and instincts from unconsciousness and then we should give efforts and hope for the best results.


Haidt, Jonathan, The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist   Approach to Moral Judgement." Psychological Review 2001, 108, 814-834, PRINT



Gesellschaft, Max Planck. Science Daily, Apr 15th ,2008. Decision-Making May Be Surprisingly Unconscious Activity, retrieved on December 2nd, 2010



Harris, Robert, Introduction to Decision Making, Version Date: December 2, 2009 retrieved on December 2nd, 2010