Changing Your Mind – An Inside Look

You are at a restaurant and cannot decide between the special or the menu classic – which one, which one?

This is called a last minute decision and usually evokes stress.

When crossing the street, you make sure to hold your Grandmother’s hand.

Why are older people more prone to falling?

Once again, in the brain, this is a last minute decision.

Scientists at John Hopkins Universty examined this brief period of last-minute decisions, shedding light upon the treatment of addictions and why elderly individuals are more prone to falling down.

Using a fMRI, they found that changing decisions requires immense brain strength. Two zones within the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and frontal eye field are forced to communicate. The prefrontal cortex manages planning ahead, which is needed to make decisions. Meanwhile, the frontal eye field handles eye movement and visual awareness. Therefore, speedy decisions require a combination of planning and coordination.

The scary aspect of these rapid decisions – they are often irreversible. Hit the break on your car when a car in front of you backs out of nowhere? The 100-millisecond choice to pull on the breaks is already being communicated to your muscles before you can decide if breaking the car is the best option. The reason for this is because during evolutionary times we needed to think fast in order to protect ourselves against predators.

It is for this reason that as you age you are more likely to fall. Neural communication slows way down as you age. As a result, if an elderly individual slips on some ice, it takes a longer for their brain to communicate to its muscles to balance to put their arms out for the way.

Tracking eye movements may provide interesting insight into the pathology of drug addictions. Addiction is a split second decision the brain makes – calling out for more of a substance. If researchers can identify exactly how the brain makes decisions, it will bring them one step closer to modifying impulses.

“The sooner I can turn off the plan to drink or use the drug,” says the lead researcher of the study, Kitty Zu, “the less likely I am to carry out that plan.”

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