Social psychology has often tried to figure out what is it that influences our decision-making power at every step of the way? Do we always look at things objectively like we believe we do? Are we pragmatic enough to take unbiased decisions that lead to our own, other’s or some group’s growth?
Guess what, all these questions are now being answered or rather scientifically proven by neuroscience! In fact, there is a whole branch of neuroscience called ‘Motivational Cognition’ dedicated to this study. As reported in the most recent issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, desires and goals which shape an individual’s thinking is known as Motivational Cognition.
These goals tend to steer an individual’s thinking towards desired conclusions. For e.g. in a recent study, participants were asked to view arrays of moving dots whose direction of motion was difficult to discern. The participants had to recognize the predominant direction of motion in the array. But just before the test, the participants were informed that they would be rewarded if the dots moved in a particular direction.
As expected, the participants modified their visual search in favour of the desired conclusion and were more inclined to see the dots moving in the direction associated with the reward. This motivational effect on vision modulated the occipital regions involved in perceptual encoding and prefrontal regions involved in top-down control of the brain.
Similar behavioural patterns were observed in terms of information processing and decision-making. People always chose to accept the information which was in the favourable light and conveniently ignored the ones which threatened their existing belief system. Decisions were also influenced by the past experiences where they had acted intelligently than foolishly.
A direct reflection of all these patterns in the brain suggests that understanding motivational cognition further might help us to break our age-old biased patterns, gain objective self insight and maximize adaptive decision-making for our own and society’s advancement.