Published: 2021-05-24 12:20 | Updated: 2021-05-24 12:51

Decision-making ability in young people is linked to social function

Boy who needs to make a decision
Photo: Getty Images

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and UCL have identified a general factor called ‘decision acuity’ that affects young people's decision-making ability, independent of IQ, and is associated with good social functioning. The results have been published in the journal Neuron.

Decision acuity underpins multiple types of decision-making and is a novel construct.

“People with higher decision acuity do not always make the best decisions, but they go for specific decisions in a consistent way,” says corresponding author Dr Michael Moutoussis, researcher at Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research and Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. “Low decision acuity is associated with poorer social function, and may be linked with mental illness symptoms.”

Independent of IQ

For the study, 830 young people (aged 14 to 24) completed decision-making tasks, which related to facets such as risk-taking, trusting in other people, and sensitivity to gains and losses. The researchers extracted 32 decision-making measures from these tasks and identified a common underlying dimension named decision acuity that proved to be independent of IQ. Decision acuity was higher in older individuals and increased with parental education. In addition, decision acuity remained stable over time among participants who were re-tested on the same behavioural tasks 18 months later.

295 of the participants also underwent MRI brain scanning, and the researchers found that decision acuity was correlated with functional connections between numerous brain regions, including several areas that have previously been linked to decision-making. They were able to replicate the findings when they re-tested participants 18 months later.

May apply to more complex decisions

Marc Guitart-Masip

“While our study participants here were conducting tasks based on simple decisions, this decision acuity may similarly apply to more complex decisions, as it relates to how far ahead people think into the future and how impulsive or trusting they are,” says joint senior author Dr Marc Guitart-Masip, who worked alongside co-first author Dr Benjamín Garzón, both researchers at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet.

The study was financed by Wellcome Trust, the Swedish Research Council, the European Research Council, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) UCLH Biomedical Research Centre. The authors declare no competing interests.

This news article is based on a press release from UCL.

Publication

“Decision-making ability, psychopathology, and brain connectivity”. Michael Moutoussis, Benjamín Garzón, Sharon Neufeld, Dominik R. Bach, Francesco Rigoli, Ian Goodyer, Edward Bullmore, NSPN Consortium, Marc Guitart-Masip, Raymond J. Dolan. Neuron, online 20 May 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.04.019.