Friday, July 07, 2006

Interesting passage on decision making

From "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 59-60:

The neurologist Antonio Damasio ... studied patients with damage to a small but critical part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies behind the nose.

The ventromedial area plays a critical role in decision making. It works out contingencies and relationships and sorts through the mountain of information we get from the outside world, prioritizing it and putting flags on things that demand our immediate attention.

People with damage to their ventromedial area are perfectly rational. They can be highly intelligent and functional, but they lack judgment. More preceisely, they don't have that mental valet in their unconscious that frees them up to concentrate on what really matters.

In his book 'Descartes' Error' Damazion describes trying to set up an appointment with a patient with this kind of brain damage:

"I suggested two alternative dates, both in the coming month and just a few days apart from each other. The patient pulled out his appointment book and began consulting the calendar.

"The behavior that ensued, which was witnessed by several investigators, was remarkable. For the better part of a half hour, the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of teh two dates: previous engagements, proximity to other engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could think about concerning a simple date.

"[He was] walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, an endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop."

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At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the patient was punched in the nose once too often?

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous alma said...

Interesting! And another question: did he get the damage because he was punched in the nose, or did he get punched in the nose because the damage made him annoying?

Have a wonderful trip Melinama!

At 6:06 PM, Blogger the sabra said...

hey thanks, i wanted to copy this from the book onto my blog but was too lazy--thanks for takin the time to type it out (uh like two years ago ;))


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