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Controling Your Emotions
Controls Your Decisions

People who make irrational decisions when faced with problems are at the mercy of their emotions, a study says.

Researchers traced the origin of such decisions to the brain's emotion centre, the amygdala, in a study of 20 people using a gambling game.

That brain region fires up in people faced with a difficult situation but reactions to its effects vary, the University College London team found.

The study findings were published in the Science journal.

The researchers found some people kept a cool head and managed to keep their emotions in check, while others were led by their emotional response.

In each trial, participants motivated by the promise of real money were first offered a starting amount of $50.

They were then presented with one of two "sure option" choices, either to "keep $20", or to "lose $30", as well as the opportunity to take an all-or-nothing gamble.

Although both sure options left players with the same amount of cash, $20, people were more likely to gamble when faced with the prospect of losing $30.

Given the "keep $20" option, volunteers played it safe and gambled only 43% of the time.

When asked if they wanted to "lose $30", they gambled on 62% of occasions.

The decision to gamble was irrational, since in every case the amount of money they stood to gain was the same, while everything could be lost by gambling.


Brain scans revealed that the amygdala fired up when subjects either chose to keep a sure gain or decided to gamble in the face of certain loss.

The brain region, which controls emotion and plays a role in the "fight or flight" reaction to perceived threats, appeared to be pushing people to keep sure money, or to gamble instead of losing.

In both situations an emotional reaction was involved, which in the case of gamblers triggered an irrational response.

Lead researcher Benedetto de Martino said: "It is well known that human choices are affected by the way in which a question is phrased.

"Our study provides neurobiological evidence that an amygdala-based emotional system underpins this biasing of human decisions.

"Moreover, we found that people are rational, or irrational, to widely differing amounts."

He said the amygdala was active in all participants, regardless of whether they behaved rationally or not.

In more rational individuals there was greater activation of the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain which deals with higher executive functions such as reasoning and planning.

This suggested that people who behaved rationally were better able to manage or override their emotional responses.

Anger Management

When you overreact to situations, or have problems with anger management, even the most minor snafu can cause you to storm out of the room, slam down the phone, or shut down entirely. It’s as if you can’t help it -- the reaction is as automatic as a mallet to the knee.

Science Reveals That Anger and Emotional Responses May Not Be Your Fault

New research indicates that habitual, knee-jerk responses go way back to our childhood.

As youngsters, we learned to adapt to our families’ idiosyncrasies as a way of survival. In the past, psychologists referred to these coping mechanisms as “baggage,” but science has now shown us that these responses are actually hard-wired into our brains. And when our responses are ingrained, they become our filtering system for future incidents.

In other words, if something happens today that the brain reads as similar to something that happened in your 20s, your brain will respond as if it were the first time even though you may be in your 50s or 60s and beyond.

One Family’s Example: Response to Yelling

Let’s say a child comes from a home where the parents fight frequently. That child is going to associate yelling with bad feelings. As an adult he is likely to shut down when his spouse raises her voice, just like when he was a kid -- running to his room, closing the door, and essentially blocking out the noise.

Does this mean that if you come from a family of yellers you are doomed to hide under your bed every time someone raises a voice? Not necessarily. Recent research indicates that the brain continues to grow throughout our lives, and old patterns can be released as new ones are formed in your baby boomer years.

Anger Management Help Is On the Way

The way to practice anger management and avoid knee-jerk reactions is to establish new brain connections. You do this by refocusing your attention to a different outcome or possibility.

But before you can foster these new connections in your brain, you have to be aware of the old brain triggers.

This easy exercise can help you improve anger management and start "rewiring" your brain to better control those over-reactions. Practicing this exercise will help you make positive changes in your life.

  1. Thinking of Alternatives:
    • When you find yourself projecting past experience onto a present one, try to imagine alternative ways to handle the situation. For example, let’s say you have lunch plans with a friend who cancels at the last minute. Immediately, you feel an overwhelming sense of hurt and rejection, which is how you always feel in similar situations. This indicates a past pattern! Be conscious of this and take a step back to recognize it.
    • Next, approach the situation from an entirely different perspective. You might try humor to deflect the bad feelings, thinking to yourself, “Gee, I guess it’s my deodorant.” Or you could choose the direct approach and ask your friend if you have done something to upset her. Or take the practical route and decide that your friend is just overbooked, overextended, or over-promised, and give her a get-out-of-jail-free card. (Hint: If you have difficulty coming up with alternative ways to handle the situation, think about how someone else -- your mother, a childhood friend, or an admired acquaintance -- might handle the same situation.)

  2. Plugging in New Choices:
    • Next, replay the actual situation as vividly as possible: the phone ringing, the sound of your friend’s voice, the awkward goodbyes, and imagine yourself carrying out one of your new solutions. Maybe you decide that being understanding of your friend’s busy schedule is the best choice.
    • Replay the phone call and plug in your new behavior (the understanding you) rather than playing out your old behavior of feeling rejected and hurt.

Make the Anger Management Changes Last

Before long, you will begin to see a slight shift in how you feel. Every time you repeat this exercise you will refocus your attention on a new outcome. This will rewire your brain, make new neural connections, improve your anger management – and make positive changes in your life.


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