How decisions become experiences and experiences guide our decisions

How decisions become experiences and experiences guide our decisions

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We relive our decisions in phases of rest

Thanks to the latest technology, thinking processes can be made visible in the brain. A German-American research team took advantage of this to investigate the complex interplay between the experience gained and the decisions made. According to the study, at rest, our brains replay experiences that we have made through decisions to make future decisions easier.

Together with Princeton University in New Jersey, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research investigated which measurable activity patterns in the brain take place when we make a decision and how this affects the brain. The research team discovered that exactly the same patterns of activity that occurred during the decision are replayed in the brain in later periods of rest, probably at a very high rate. In this way, the brain creates references for future decisions. The study results were recently presented in the scientific journal "Science".

The hippocampus: the control center of the brain

The hippocampus is part of the human brain and serves as a kind of switching station. This region of the brain is significantly involved in the decision-making process, as the current science study shows. Other studies have already shown that the hippocampus plays a central role in learning and memory processes. The research team led by Yael Niv and Nicolas Schuck have now been able to document which processes take place in the brain when making decisions.

In the hippocampus, decisions become experiences

33 test subjects worked on a complex task in 40 minutes that aimed at making decisions. Her brain activities were recorded with the help of a magnetic resonance tomograph (MRT). Here, certain individual activity patterns in the brain were shown that were connected with the decision. After completing the task, participants should lie on the MRI for a few minutes and relax. Brain activity continued to be recorded. It was shown that during this brief period of rest, the pattern of activity that ran during the decision was replayed in the hippocampus.

Algorithm recognizes brain patterns

The researchers have succeeded in programming an algorithm that recognizes, stores and recognizes patterns in the brain when they occur again. This also enabled activity patterns to be identified that would have remained hidden from the naked eye.

Experience in time lapse

"While the participants lay quietly in the breaks between the tasks, the hippocampus replayed the decision task that had just been completed," summarizes research director Nicolas Schuck. The order of the previous experiences could even be observed. The results suggest that the repetitions in the brain take place at a greatly increased pace.

Short periods of rest can consolidate what you have learned

"This could be an indication that rest periods play a role in learning new tasks," emphasizes Schuck. "The ability of the hippocampus to play through experiences in time-lapse seems to play a central role in the fact that experiences become representations in the brain that help us to make decisions," adds his American colleague Professor Yael Niv. (Vb)

Read also: Mind readable: Neurologists decode brain waves and recognize future actions in advance.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Max Planck Institute for Educational Research: In resting phases, the brain plays back experiences that we made when making decisions (accessed: 04.07.2019),
  • Schuck, Nicolas W. / Niv, Yael: Sequential replay of nonspatial task states in the human hippocampus, Science, 2019,

Video: How To Make Decisions From Your Divinity (August 2022).