The neuroscience of too much choice


The Story

Today I head for the airport.

A final rush to the local shopping centre for that special gift; one store after another; overwhelming choice; back to the first one – purchase made. Then that special card; one card after another, one genre of card after another; purchase the first one I held in my hand for reference…then that special wrapping paper; less choice, simpler decision. Then I headed for a coffee as a respite to my decision making; what type of coffee? Cappuccino, macchiato, black, flat white, skinny or full milk…cappuccino…first thing on the menu list…almost forgot to pick up that bread for Rose. Multi grain, white, HiG white, Hi fibre, sesame seed, poppy seed, farmers grain, hi top, soft or crusty…I walked away…I couldn’t actually decide what type of bread I needed to get for my friend!

A short drive away, I popped into a corner shop and quickly decided which bread I needed to take home to Rose.

Leaving Rose is difficult. I’m unsure when I will be visiting again. My friend has cancer which is compounded with her blindness. It’s not the cancer that bothers her; it is the isolation the blindness brings. For a long time I thought her fixed head position and expressionless face were because she was bored, but, no, it is a consequence of her blindness – social interactions we take as granted are difficult for someone who cannot detect another person’s facial expressions. As I drive out I glance in the rear view mirror at Rose, standing alone in the driveway after our hug. I try to give Rose lots of hugs when I visit – and my friends all help, by sending her hugs for me to deliver.

I reach the airport with a mixed sense of relief and despair. I love airports – a space filled with stories on the move. I always imagine people at airports and wonder what their thought bubbles would be if they were hanging above their heads visible for us all? I love airport lounges – time to make calls, quietly and softly, social and business, a time capsule where I have time to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, interspersed with quiet reflection of my visit with my friend.

Most of all, I love flying – total disconnection from the world without the possibility of any interruption, gazing out of the window in a world that is an endless blue, filled with sunshine. The world is always perfect up there above the clouds.

My staring into space is abruptly dragged into the present with an intercom announcement as we prepared to land…

Neuroscience…so What?

…so What are some of the underlying neuroscience elements at play in this story?

Can you identify any of the following?

Prefrontal Cortex overload