Decision Making and Neurobiology: What Happens in the Brain?

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Text comes from: Gelassen gewinnen: Ab jetzt reitest du den Affen! (2014) by Prof. Dr. Martin Christian Morgenstern, published by BusinessVillage Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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Relax, be calm, no stress - it's easy to say. But what are the neurobiological foundations of relaxed, good decisions? What happens in our head and body when we should actually relax and not be able to. mind stress

Here writes for you:


Dr. Martin Christian Morgenstern 82Dr. Martin Christian Morgenstern is a behavioral scientist and evolutionary psychologist.


From the author:



What happens in the head?

According to estimates, the human brain consists of 100 billions up to 1.000 billion nerve cells. These nerve cells are connected by a widely branched network of ramifications.

Each individual nerve cell is a cell specialized in stimulation and excitation. The individual nerve cells are linked by lines. They are called dendrites and axons. For these lines, the individual nerve cells exchange information through electrochemical impulses.

The amount of experience

All the information that we have gathered in the course of our lives can be found in nerve cell networks. This means that everything that has helped us in our lives until today in our survival or has endangered in our lives, in the brain has a nerve cell network.

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As soon as our sensory organs, such as the eyes, ears, nose or skin sensor, report information about the recurrence of this stored situation to the nerve cells, the nerve cells engage the body with an emotional reaction.

How stress develops

An emotional reaction usually consists of an interplay between muscle tension and physiological excitation, such as an increase in heart beat and / or a sweating of the palm of the hand. Now we get this physical response to our consciousness level I-1 to feel. The process to this point is almost a fixed stimulus reaction chain.

You can compare the responsible nerve cell system with the board of an electronic device. There are also burned paths, which direct electrical impulses in the predetermined lanes. Now that the physical response has started, we feel it as a sensation on our conscious mind level Ich-1.

How decisions are made

From there, we begin to look for more information and clues in the environment to trigger the reaction. At the same time, we try to coordinate the best possible behavioral response.

Depending on the degree of activation in the body, we then go through different mental simulation scenarios, where we simulate already learned and available behavioral variants. Subsequently, a decision is made.

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Experiments for decision making

However, in most cases this decision is less conscious than we are imagine, So the physiologist Benjamin Libet 1979 performed an interesting experiment: He had a light spot rotated on a circular scale, similar to a clock. His subjects should make the decision to press a button and parallel the current position of the light point. During the experiment, Libet has been able to determine when the brain responsible for motion has become active through brain current and muscle activity measurement. He noted that the brain part had already become active before the participants realized their decision. Libet concluded from the results of his experiment that man does not make decisions entirely out of his own free will. (Benjamin Libet (1999): "Do we have free will?" Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5, p.

Decisions often run unconsciously

Accordingly, the conscious mind on the I-1 level is much less master in the house, than we want to stand in one or the other corner. Even if Libet's experiment has been subjected to some criticism, more modern experimental arrangements with so-called magnetic resonance tomographs or positron emission tomographs seem to confirm the original idea of ​​libets.

Philosophers are currently discussing how much conscious freedom of choice and how much conscious will man actually possesses around these experiments.

How is negative stress

In summary, it is very important for us to know that anything that puts us in negative stress either has an extremely high nonspecific reactivity (like the Martinshorn of a rescue vehicle) or is already engraved in our nerve cells. Also, the cells know about our abilities to master a tipping situation, which is also influenced by our daily form.

As soon as a learned or challenging situation occurs in the sense of perceived stimuli, this leads almost as a reflection to an activation of the body. At this moment it is over with our serenity and we can then only deliberately try to make the best of it at the level of the Ich-1. We are always as relaxed as our nerve cells have learned yesterday, last week, last month, last year and in the last decades. In fact, we can not react when we perceive a triggering stimulus!

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  1. Haufe Academy

    Helps calmness against negative stress? Positive experiences

  2. Monika Landfried

    RT @HeinerTenz: “CALM AS A MOTTO IN LIFE - PART 2: Neurobiology - what happens in the head?”

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    RT @HeinerTenz: “CALM AS A MOTTO IN LIFE - PART 2: Neurobiology - what happens in the head?”

  4. Heiner Tenz

    “CALM AS A MOTTO IN LIFE - PART 2: Neurobiology - what happens in the head?”

  5. Ulrike Luecke-Bongartz

    The sometimes very new findings are described so beautifully - courage is required to internalize this and the knowledge that personal responsibility can also be an exciting game.

    • Simone Janson

      Thanks for the nice comment.

  6. Ulli Luecke-Bongartz

    Summary of new findings - worth reading for everyone who courageously wants to continue their education!

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    Serenity as a motto in life - Part 2: Neurobiology - what happens in the head ?: Relax, s… #Profession #Education

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