Glossary - Decision Making & Emotions

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Decision Making & Emotions

amygdala Part of the brain that controls fear, aggression and emotional memory. There are two amygdalae that share this role, one on either side of the brain, buried deep in the temporal lobes. Studies have shown that when the amygdalae of aggressive animals are damaged, they become docile and even timid.

behavioural economics A branch of economics which looks at the factors that influence people’s financial decisions. Drawing on psychology, behavioural economics shows that, far from the picture of rational ’economic man’ painted by classical economics, people frequently base their decisions on impulse, prejudice and intuition. Psychological impulses range from altruism to outright self-sabotage.

cold state In an unaroused condition, as opposed to ’hot state’, which is when our appetites are aroused. The term has its origins in the so-called hot-cold empathy gaps described by US psychologist George Loewenstein and developed by Loran Nordgren and others. Loewenstein found that people in an unaroused (’cold’) state failed to anticipate their behaviour when aroused (or ’hot’). He used the example of young men failing to predict that, in the heat of the moment, they would be tempted to have sex without a condom, leading to risk-taking sexual behaviour.

expected utility This is a way of working out people’s betting preferences taking into account all factors, including risk aversion and personal preference. This differs from expected value, which is purely focused on the financial gain expected from a gamble. Expected utility explains why people don’t always make the decision that, rationally, you might expect them to.

frontal lobes The front part of the brain, that is involved with motor skills, moral judgments, language, decision making and long-term memory.

hippocampus Part of the brain that is responsible for long-term memory, located in the frontal lobes.

hot state In an aroused condition, as opposed to ’cold state’.

innate An essential part of something or someone, possibly existing since birth. From the Latin innatus, meaning to be born in.

intuition Knowledge gained through instinct, rather than a rational process. From the Latin intuito, meaning ’to look at’.

neurologist A doctor who specializes in treating the nervous system, including the brain. Diagnosis includes the physical condition of the brain, physical functions affected by the brain, such as balance and motor skills, and cognitive abilities, such as memory and speech. Treatment includes referral to a physiotherapist, prescribing drugs and/or surgery.

physiological Relating to the normal functioning of a body. A physiological reaction is a response usually triggered by the brain. There is ongoing debate about what stage the conscious brain engages, and whether emotions trigger the reaction or vice versa. The classic example given in the James—Lange theory of emotion is that of a person coming across a bear in the woods. Their physiological reaction is to tremble and then run. According to James—Lange, however, fear is triggered by the physiological reaction, which the brain recognizes as a symptom of fear, rather than vice versa.

prefrontal cortex The foremost part of the brain, located in the anterior (front) region of the frontal lobes. It is responsible for expressing personality, moral judgments and controlling sexual impulses.

restraint bias The tendency for people to be unduly optimistic about their ability to control their behaviour when aroused. The term originates in the theory of hot-cold empathy gaps described by US psychologist George Loewenstein and developed by Loran Nordgren and others.

schizophrenia A psychiatric diagnosis associated with abnormalities in several of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Typically, the condition is marked by a distorted view of reality, an inability to function socially, withdrawal from society, hearing voices and delusions of grandeur. Sub-categories include: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated and residual schizophrenia.

stimulus Something that stimulates a response. In certain instances, the strength of a psychological stimulus may elicit an uncontrolled physical response, such as nervous twitches or spasms.

systematic Relating to the entire system, in this case the brain. A systematic problem is one that requires the whole system to be treated for the problem to be eradicated.