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Website: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011126/sc/health_decisions_dc_1.html

Posted on: 11/27/2001

Rational Decisions Guided by Emotion - Study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Seemingly rational decisions about ourselves that we make every day, such as whether to fasten a seat belt, are actually laden with emotion, a U.S. researcher said on Monday.

Based on X-ray images of the brains of people making decisions, a study concluded there was evidence that types of thinking considered "rational" and "emotional" overlapped, in contrast to older concepts that the mind is sharply divided, the researcher said.

"If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it's impossible to make decisions in daily life," radiologist Dean Shibata of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York said in the study.

In the report presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Shibata said X-rays of the brains of people in the act of making decisions that affected their own lives showed an increase in mental activity in their prefrontal lobes, the area where emotions are generated.

In addition, analysis of magnetic resonance images taken of the brains of 11 subjects corroborated previous evidence from brain-damaged subjects that the area of the brain associated with emotions play an important role in decision-making.

In the study, Shibata took images of subjects' brains as they were asked first to make decisions based on how it would affect them personally.

When asked to make the choice purely on the basis of cost, there was less activity in the prefrontal lobes where emotions are processed.

"People who have had strokes or brain tumors that caused injury to the prefrontal lobes of their brains, where emotions are processed, have a very difficult time making even routine personal decisions, such as scheduling a doctor's appointment," Shibata said.

When it comes to making apparently rational decisions -- such as what product to buy for themselves or whether to wear a seat belt -- people with damage to the prefrontal lobes are stymied, he said. But making the decisions for another person poses no problem for them.

"Even while making a decision, such as 'Should I put on my seat belt?' you intuitively realize that without the seat belt, you might get hurt in a crash. That's an emotional image. If you can't envision that, you can't make the decision to wear the seat belt," Shibata said.


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