Decision Making: 7 Incredible Ways Our Brains Process Information To Make Better Choices

How many decisions have you made today? Not just the big ones, like what job you want or where you want to go to university… Not just the important daily ones, like what clothes to wear or what to eat for lunch… But all of them. Decision making is part of everything we do. How many times has your brain encountered a set of choices and had to decide which was the best of the possible outcomes?

We are constantly making decisions, as many as 2,000 per hour. Deciding whether to go to Jenny’s party or Billie’s.  Deciding whether we want the chicken or the fish. Deciding whether to check the notification we just received. Deciding whether we should scratch our nose. Deciding if we want to keep reading a blog.

We are constantly making decisions, large and small, and much of the time we don’t even realize it. So how do we handle so many choices without going crazy?

How our brains process information

Part of the reason we are able to make so many decisions is that our brains are incredibly efficient at absorbing and processing information. We gather details about our world from our eyes and ears and skin and a wide range of sensory organs and almost instantaneously process the information based on our entire life history. Almost without even noticing, we decide that we do want another sip of coffee after all.

Our brains use several cognitive abilities to make these split-second decisions, and we follow a similar process for more significant decisions as well.

Information Processing in the Brain

Our brains are incredibly efficient at evaluating and making decisions and have several tricks to make decisions faster and require less energy. Mental ‘shortcuts’ help us to avoid decision overload and allow us to reserve energy and processing power for more critical tasks. However, sometimes shortcuts can cause us a bit of trouble as well.

3 types of shortcuts for decision making

There are several shortcuts, known as heuristics that we use to make decisions which help us to make decisions more efficiently:

These heuristics are powerful ways that we speed up and automate the thousands of choices we are faced with each day. Still, it is important to understand the downside of mental shortcuts, as they can lead to unintended consequences and cause harm to ourselves and others.

4 biases that can affect decision making

How can something that speeds up decision making and makes our cognitive processes more efficient end up being a bad thing? The problem stems from the fact that we think we know the answer to something before we take the time to learn all the facts.

Some of the most common biases that affect decision making are:

There are many other ways our decision-making processes can be negatively affected by mental biases. So it is essential to stay mindful and always try to double-check whether your choices are the result of informed cognitive processes or biases.

How a healthy brain is better at making decisions

Staying healthy is one of the best ways to improve our decision-making capabilities. As anyone who has ever gone grocery shopping while they were hungry knows, things like hunger, stress, or how tired we are can have a significant effect on the decisions we make.

Just like someone who eats healthy food before heading to the grocery store is more likely to choose healthy foods, a person who has plenty of sleep, well-managed stress, and maintains a healthy exercise routine will be better equipped to make better decisions in all parts of their lives.


If you or someone you know are interested in learning about your brain health, check out our cognitive assessments and brain training here.