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Decision Making

Research theme

Decision Making

We use neuroimaging to ask:

How we:

  • Choose between different options.
  • Assess the value (risk or reward) of a decision
  • Quantify the processes involved in decision making

How our decisions are influenced by:

  • Our emotions and motivation
  • The world around us
  • The way options are framed

How decision making is changed:

  • In psychiatric and neurological disorders

Our goal is to provide:

Computational insights into how we make decisions in a range of scenarios, using neurobiology as lens to understand impaired decision-making.



We have developed a smartphone app that has allowed us to collect data from over 130,000 people around the world (Brown et al., 2014; Rutledge et al., 2014; McNab et al., 2015) and using computational models we can use those data to improve our understanding of how the general population makes decisions (Rutledge et al., 2016).

Understanding how people behave in the real world will help economists and policy-makers understand financial trends such as economic collapse after inflation (i.e. the financial bubble). In future, this information could improve decision making.

Our research into the neural mechanisms that support decision making aims to benefit patients with:

  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia

Recent work

  • The posterior parietal cortex is involved in perceptual decision making (Fitzgerald et al., 2015)
  • The anterior insula is involved in risk assessment during choice (Symmonds et al., 2013)
  • The ventromedial prefrontal cortex supports a sense of confidence in our choices (De Martino, Fleming et al., 2013; Bang & Fleming, 2018)
  • Multiple distinct brain networks are exploited when learning about multiple features simultaneously, such as effort and reward (Hauser et al., 2017)
  • The neuromodulators serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline have distinct effects on decision making (Crockett et al., 2015; Hauser et al., 2017)
  • Boosting dopamine levels increases the number of risky options people take when there is potential for gains (Rutledge et al., 2015)

Teams in this research area