We are probably the only species that is aware of its own decisions. The decision-making process is the core element of our so-called free will and seems to predict our behavior. Sometimes we are more sometimes we are less aware of our decisions. According to neuroscience, most of our decisions are made before our conscious mind is aware of the already made decision. It looks like our mind is just a passive observer instead of being the active part. Now there is a reason why this is the case as in evolution, this might have helped us a lot to survive. In general, it looks like that our intuition is much better at helping us make better decisions than our minds. The famous German soccer player Gerd Mueller once said, if I were given 10 seconds to find a decision, I would definitely not score a goal.

We know the word “gut feeling,” and if we want to express it more selectively, we say “intuition.” This phenomenon is gaining more and more importance in scientific research. How we make decisions depends on many different factors. One thing is sure – the reason is often a hindrance when making the right decision. It is not yet clear what role the mind plays in decision-making. What is certain is that separation between reason and emotion is hardly possible. Most decisions have a strong emotional level. For example, this is proven by brain research, for example, is a fascinating computerized test called the “IOWA Gambling Task.”



Fig 1 – Screen grab of the Iowa Gambling Task. Permission given by test’s author, Dr. Antoine Bechara.


Subjects are asked to take playing cards from four decks of cards. The drawn card can either bring a high gain or a low gain. However, it is also possible to draw a card that results in a high or low loss. You start with a starting capital and have a total of 100 attempts. The goal is to end up with the highest possible profit.’ The brain scanner has been determined that a wide variety of brain regions become active in the process. In addition to areas responsible for cognitive processes and the so-called “executive functions,” those of the frontal lobe, there is also vigorous activity in centers involved in emotional processes, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). What was interesting in the research was that in healthy subjects, skin resistance changed even before the decision to pick a deck of cards. In contrast, in patients with lesions in the vmPFC, it changed only after the decision to pick a card.

The results also indicate that high impulsive individuals are biased towards immediate reward during option evaluation but are less sensitive to the negative consequences of their choices.

How can it be that some people benefit more from their gift of intuition, while others do not even know something like the much-invoked “inner voice”? I’m talking about “normal people” with no lesions in their brain or any kind of diagnosed disorders.

Intuition is probably capable of far more than we can imagine. It makes the improbable probable. How else is it possible that people succeed in winning the lottery not just once but twice, and that too in quick succession? According to the laws of probability, this is virtually impossible. A math teacher in the USA, for example, has won the jackpot four times in her life. That borders on miraculous, yet most of us know the experience that in certain situations, you seem to have done the right thing. Other times, however, of not having listened to your feelings. We all seem to have an ability that we give far too little attention to and little trust in. This is not to say that you should all fall prey to gambling. In another experiment, subjects were given the tricky task of choosing the most favorable financing for a house purchase from among many options. One group was asked to make the best decision with the help of calculations and tables. Another group had to decide spontaneously, without thinking. Another group was allowed to play an entertaining parlor game and then asked to make a spontaneous decision. The group found the best solution that was allowed to play a game beforehand.

Once we start actively involving our minds, we seem to more make decisions that lead towards an unfavorable result.

Intuition must come from an earlier level of our evolution and is still part of our primitive brain. It’s a leftover of the early days of man when the brain’s ability to act precisely when there were hidden dangers to make sure one’s survival. Now, these days, we use this capability so little that we don’t know how to listen to it properly.

And there are quite a lot of examples found in research that support the evidence that the mind is not the best tool to make decisions. In numerous experiments, scientists have shown that the more complex arrangements are, the better intuition works mean we would do better to go with our gut.

The problem is, not everyone has the same abilities, not everyone has access to his intuition and even though we have, we often do not trust the signals coming from there.

Intuition now becomes more and more focus on cognitive neuroscience and the last two decades have seen rapid changes in our understanding of the brain basis of at least some aspects of this rather complex process.

Once we actively involve our minds, we seem to make decisions that lead to an unfavorable result.

Intuition must come from an earlier level of our evolution and is still part of our primitive brain. It’s a leftover of the early days of man when the brain’s ability to act precisely when there were hidden dangers to make sure one’s survival. But not only in the presence of trouble.

I read an interesting story from the famous brain researcher Thomas Budzinski. He reported people from a tribe where the men were often away for days at a time hunting and often returned after several days. The return was always based on the success of the hunting trips – never after a specific time. Of course, they did not involve smartphones. Nevertheless, the women always knew exactly when they could expect the men to return.

These days, we use this capability so little that we don’t know how to listen to it properly.

The problem is that not everyone has the same abilities.  Even though everyone has intuition, we often do not trust the signals coming from there.

Intuition now becomes more and more focused on cognitive neuroscience. The last two decades have seen rapid changes in our understanding of the brain basis of at least some aspects of this rather complex process.


Fig 2 – This model is based on more than 50 years of neuroscientific research, which has shown the different functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and their role in the regulation of emotion and decision-making.

The proposed operational model places the functions identified with the frontal lobes of the brain into a schematic, decision making form that shows the differences between the right and left sides of the brain. The right frontal lobe performs a parallel (everything at once) scan and looks primarily for danger or reasons to avoid. The left frontal lobe performs a serial (1 thing at a time) scan and is responsible for ensuring that all possibilities have been considered, and that a situation or decision is safe, or should be approached. A key difference is that although the danger mechanism can render a decision in a split second, the safety mechanism must perform many sequences of analysis, before being sure that all possible dangers or concerns have been considered.


Let us have a look at the brain. Brain regions, like the frontal lobe and structures like the limbic system, are highly involved in the decision-making process.

Research has led to exciting interdisciplinary exchanges with diverse fields like psychotherapy, neuromarketing, ecology, and political science.  Decision-making is highly interlinked with learning, memory, and emotion.

So, it’s clear that decision-making is a link between memory of the past and future actions. What if we could have direct access to those brain regions involved in the decision-making process?

This branch of brain research is quite fascinating.

One such EEG technology is called low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (LORETA). LORETA incorporates a mathematical inverse solution of surface EEG data, providing cortical source localization and generating three-dimensional images, like those produced by fMRI data (Thatcher, 2013). A new generation of the algorithm, standardized LORETA (sLORETA; Pascual-Marqui, 2002), advances this concept and allows to record brain activation in highly accurate timing.

The role of brain-based Approach-Avoidance Asymmetry is one example that helps us better understand this phenomenon. Frontal lobe asymmetry can be described as scalp-recorded EEG asymmetries and their possible role in emotional processes. Richard Davidson, among others, summarized the research up to that point by proposing that greater left-sided prefrontal cortex activity appeared to be associated with approach-related and goal-directed action planning, while the right suggests avoidance-related emotions.

With these findings in mind, researchers exposed the brain to different stimuli to elicit conscious awareness of the triggering signal. They refer to this response to stimuli as a nonconscious emotional reaction. At the same time, Collura, Zalaquett, Bonnstetter, and Chatters (2014) found that these patterns must represent a precognitive process. Naccache et al. (2005) explain that the limbic networks can process threat and reward cues within 200 Milliseconds, thus supplying a continuous nonconscious response to every interaction we have.

Brain activation imaging showing negative bias before becoming consciously aware of it. The person might even say that the stimulus elicited a positive emotion, but the brain pattern says exactly the opposite. This is for example interesting when it comes to disorders like drug abuse. People in trial might say they are no longer interested in drinking, but the brain activates the left frontal lobe when opposed to a drug related picture like a glass of wine

Frontal Lobe Asymmetry measurements, using Event Related Brain Imaging has shown remarkable results.

Fig 3 – Baseline Left Frontal Brain Activation – Brain Response to the word “Chocolate Cookie”

Brain Activation Pattern 200 ms after a stimulus presented. In our experimens this is usually just a single word or a picture. Here the subject was shown the word “Team”.  it was the picture of a Each stimulus creates a so-called microstate which represents our bias as it appears before we are consciously aware it. Here the stimulus has created a positive bias which it clearly represents.

In this view we look frontally at the brain – so left side on the picture is the right side of the brain and vice versa. This is an activation of a left sided Gamma burst which indicates a positive emotional bias to a stimulus.


Fig 4 – Baseline right prefrontal Cortex – Aversion to the word „Exercise”

This image shows brain activation while the stimulus “Exercise” was presented. This shows an internal aversion to what is actually a healthy behavior. Although the subject does not consciously have any aversion to exercise, it became clear during the conversation that this word apparently triggered a negative experience from his youth, which was accompanied by an injury. With this method, amazing connections with decisions can be made. These patterns are a clear indication of currents that are mostly unknown to us and that create a constant bias that we are hardly aware of. This can shape us positively by also intuitively protecting us from danger. But it is also possible that such unconscious imprints prevent us from realigning ourselves in order to discover new things and to really shape our lives ourselves in freedom.


Now what conclusions can we draw from all this? The question was whether computers will help us to make better decisions.

The possibilities are of course limited, yet the technologies could in some way help to expose our hidden bias, and perhaps make us think differently about our actions and gain awareness of unnecessary barriers.

There is no doctrine of good choices – it is not a craft; there is no manual for it. But there are indications, based on previous knowledge, from which we can conclude and ultimately derive actions. Experience certainly plays a significant role. A customs officer, for example, needs only a few clues to pick out the person with whom he could probably find inconsistencies. He can trust his gut feeling more and more as he learns from experience also.  However, this is limited only to a particular field. But it also shows that when you work hard at one subject, there can be a huge gain in learning.

Yet intuition can bring an enormous advantage in many cases. Successful people trust their intuition and do not let themselves be distracted, even by adverse events that a decision may have brought about.

Many people do not have access to intuition or doubt they have it or do not trust it.

Interestingly, science now knows that the brain maintains strong connections to other organs through the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve is the longest in the entire nervous system and connects the brain to the heart and intestinal tract.

And this connection is increasingly recognized as an essential factor for higher cognitive functions.

Decision-making in this relationship fits within the so-called somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) framework. The SMH plays a crucial role in the body’s decision-making involvement.  Research has shown that people under stimulation of the Vagus nerve tend to make better decisions in the Iowa Gambling Task. And now guess what the effect is of this stimulation: It produces a parasympathetic response, which is nothing else than a calming effect.

The heart is another organ with a say in decision-making that should not be underestimated. It depends on whether one’s heart is in it.  The heart sends signals to the brain with every heartbeat, which can be seen through the so-called heartbeat-evoked potentials. A disturbed communication between the heart and brain can show itself in depression. The brain listens to the heart and directs its activity towards it.


Fig 5 – The Electrocardiogram (ECG) superimposed to the Electroencephalogram (EEG) The Heart is responding to each R-Wave, which has the highest amplitude


Our intestine is a fascinating organ when it comes to brain research. After all, there are also neurons in the gut, about as many as an average dog’s brain. These neurons, in turn, have very close relationships with our intestinal flora – the so-called microbiome. A population consists of Trillions of bacteria that, depending on their composition, play a significant role in how we feel and think.

So let’s pay attention to what we eat – if you nourish the good gut bacteria, you will do better. And, of course, it’s also critical to our mental and emotional health.

Is it possible to promote and possibly even train one’s gift of intuition? And how do we manage to give this power more meaning again? A crucial point is probably the inner balance, a calm and unagitated mind, the absence of stress. When one directs all attention to stress management, the focus narrows; this has the consequence that one can develop too little flexibility and creativity. The sympathetic nerve then releases too many stress hormones, blocking important receptor sites on the neurons.  You are more likely to make bad decisions than good ones in this state. You trust your intuition even less or cannot express and develop it appropriately.

If we want to make better decisions, then technology can be of indirect help here. Devices that promote parasympathetic activity can reduce stress and, in the process, shift neuronal activity to a state of a greater balance. However, gizmos and gadgets should not be trusted alone. We must constantly put our lifestyle to the test. Are we living sufficiently in tune with our nature? Are we getting enough sleep, how good is our diet, and enough exercise? Not to mention the pleasant social contacts we naturally need as social beings.

In the many studies on meditation, I have been involved in, I could witness the dramatic changes experienced by people who have engaged more intensively in meditation. Many subjects reported drastic positive changes in their lives after meditating regularly. There were significant changes in the composition of brain waves, which amazed me time and again. A similar thing happened with neurofeedback applications. The effects on decision-making ability and intuition are not directly measurable, yet the quality of life increased for most. This is related to better stress tolerance, which is also called resilience.

Bad decisions can also cause a lot of stress, so it is always a good advice to take care of one’s own decision-making process.

Surely our intuition is nourished from all the positive and negative experiences we have in the course of life. However, a good gift of intuition only arises when we allow ourselves to learn something from these experiences. If we look at the Polynesian seafaring nations, for example, we can only marvel at how they were able to navigate safely over thousands of miles without technical devices.

We must have the courage to take new paths through what we have learned, indeed to take a risk again and again, even with the possibility that it could fail.


Dessa, a well-known rapper, singer and songwriter in the USA has put this into beautiful but also drastic words. “Just by virtue of being a human being and alive, you are guaranteed pain, in a way that corresponds to the extent to which you render yourself available to love and be loved.”