Richard G. Petty, MD

Decision Making and Internal Balance

Many of us run into problems when we try to make decisions. In a special section in the October 26 issue of the journal Science, Martin Paulus who is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego, has marshaled a growing body of evidence that human decision-making is inextricably linked to an individuals’ need to maintain a homeostatic balance.

He goes on to suggest that psychiatrists may need to approach the treatment of psychiatric patients from a new direction: by understanding that such individuals’ behavior and decision-making are based on an attempt to reach an inner equilibrium, in the same way that we try to being our temperature or blood pressure back to a set point. And if the thermostat is broken we may see mental illness and substance abuse.

This makes good sense: in the past decision-making process as a considered series of options and values, but that is not what we see in the clinic. People with addictions and some mental illnesses keep making bad choices, despite being intelligent and insightful.

Recent neuroimaging research shows strong support for the homeostatic nature of decision-making:
The insula is involved in processing interoceptive information: the body’s internal state or sense of balance
Damage to the insula stops addiction to cigarettes
Some of the same brain structures implicated in the urge to take drugs are involved in other biological urges

The question addressed in part by this paper are whether changes in decision-making behavior and associated brain functions are a result of pre-existing characteristics – which may predispose individuals to use drugs – or occur as a consequence of long-term use.

This is certainly an interesting idea, and we shall have to see how it fits as we collect further data.

“The quality of a decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”
–Sun Tzu (Chinese Military Strategist and Author of the “Art of War”, c.400-c.430 B.C.E.)

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”
–Maimonides (a.k.a. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Spanish-born Jewish Philosopher and Physician, 1135-1204)

“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien (South African-born English Writer, Linguist, Oxford Don and a Member of C.S. Lewis’ Literary Group, “The Inklings,” 1892-1973)

“Decisions are doorway to change and change starts from a moment of decision. One decision can change your life forever!”
–Tony Robbins (American Motivational Speaker and Writer, 1960-)

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.”

–Napoleon Bonaparte (Corsican-born French Military Strategist, General and, from 1804-1814, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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