PSYCH207 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Error Detection And Correction, Insular Cortex, Prefrontal Cortex

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11d – Decision Making, Emotions and the Brain
In this last section, we’re going to be talking about decision making, emotions,
and the brain, and I just want to highlight the field of neuroeconomics, as this is
a field that really focuses in on this. And this is a new field that examines how
the brain interacts with the environment to enable us to make complex decisions.
What some scientists have argued is that you can’t really fully grasp how human
beings make decisions in the world without acknowledging the role of emotion. Well,
what brain regions are involved with decision making? Well, it probably doesn’t
surprise you that th e frontal lobes play a huge part in decision making. This has
been known for a number of years, at least as early as the case of Phineas Gage.
Since that time, numerous studies have examined the brain regions that underlie
decision making. I’m going to highlight one study here that I think really
highlights how cognition and emotion interact when we’re making decision s. In this
task, Sanfe y and colleagues presented participants with a task called the
ultimatum game. In this task, you are to imagine tha t you are working with a
partner, and you have the opportunity to split $10 with that partner. You’ll
receive a one - time offer from your partner, and then you have the opportunity to
either accept or reject this offe r. If you accept the offer made by you r partner,
you split the money as determined. If it is rejected, you both go home with
nothing. So, if the partner offers you $4, if you accept the $4, you get $4, the
partner gets $6. If you reject the $4, you get nothing, and your partner gets
nothin g. So, think about this for a moment. What would you do if your partner
offered you $5? Would you accept that offer and split it, $5 each? How about if the
partner offered you $1? Would you take that dollar and let your partner have $9?
Well, rationa lly, if you think about it, one dollar is better than no dollars – if
you reject that $1 offer, you will get nothing. Wh at Sanfe y found was that many
participants actually would reject these unfair offers, that is, they would rather
leave with nothing and ensure that their partner had nothing, than leave with $1
when they knew that that was an unfair offer. In addition, these unfair offers were
followed by activations in the insula cortex and the dorso lateral prefrontal
cortex. The insula has been predom inately indicated in response to negative
emotional states, such as anger and disgust. So, even though the rational brain,
perhaps the prefrontal cortex, should be telling these participants to accept, no
matter what the offer is, because any money is bet ter than no money, the insula
gets in the way, and in some ways, this emotional response trumps the cognitive
response and determines how the decision will be made. Numerous studies have also
converged on this idea that complex decision making involving real - world
problems often involves this interplay between emotion and those regions of the
brain that subserve emotion and cognition. A summary of some of these brain regions
can be found in the following figure. In the previous study we discussed the p
refrontal cortex and the insula. Other neuroimaging studies of decision making hav
e also found that the anterior cinglulate cortex, that is , a region of the brain
found to be involved in error detection and conflict mon itoring, as well as the
amygdala , wh ich is also known to be involved in processing emotion, work together
to help us make decisions in the real world.
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