Making an easy choice often happens quickly, while more difficult decisions take longer to mull. Researchers from the University of Oxford have delved into the science behind this trade-off and determined two parts of the brain that are responsible for how quickly, and accurately, we make decisions.

A new study published in eLife has determined that a pair of distinct neural networks influence how we execute decisions: one network increases the amount of information required before making a choice, while the second lowers the threshold of fact accuracy — especially when timing is a crucial factor.

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Researchers worked with 29 participants, 11 of whom had Parkinson’s disease and 18 who were healthy. They asked the group to make decisions about whether a cloud of moving dots appeared to be shifting to the left or the right, according to a press release from eLife. The research team varied the difficulty of making this choice.

Results showed that participants made much faster decisions when the task was easier and they were told to make a quick decision. They also discovered that participants made many more errors during tests after spending longer to make a decision and accuracy was emphasized.

“We know that changes in activity of one of the sites we identified is also related to movement control,” said senior author Peter Brown, according to the press release, which is part of the reason why Parkinson's patients were used in the study.

“Close relationships between these neural networks could mean that a common signal is responsible for adjustments in both the speed of decision and of the resulting movement,” the researcher explained. “A better understanding of these mechanisms might make it possible to focus therapeutic interventions on specific neural circuits to improve treatment of neurological disorders in the future.”

In other words, these results could also lead to future treatments for neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

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Previous research has supported the theory that there is not one single decision-making system in the brain, Medical Daily previously reported.

Source: Herz DM, Tan H, Brittain FS, FIscher P, Cheeran B, Green AL, et al. Distinct mechanisms mediate speed-accuracy adjustments in cortico-subthalamic networks. eLife. 2016.

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