What kind of chooser are you? The Paradox of Autonomy Informed by Neuroscience

Our daily choices eventually shape our future-self. Understanding the neuroscience behind autonomy can improve self-control and performance. Join the autonomy conversation at the next We-breakfast at A'DAM Tower.

"Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without." – The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

We make decisions every day.  Each choice brings a different degree of impact on our future being. Some choices may be trivial, which only affect for minutes or hours, such as choosing tea or coffee to drink. However selecting a career to pursue, a partner who lives with will have a far more significant impact for a longer-term. Our choices eventually shape our future-self. 

How do we make choices? Take this fun quiz: 

Q. How many food-related choices do you make in a day?

According to the research conducted by Professor Wansink at Cornell University, people estimate that, on average, they make about 15 food- and beverage-related decisions each day. But the truth is, they make more than 15 times what they estimated — 221 food-related decisions every day. 

This research indicates that our brain is mostly auto-pilot mode when you’re making choices. And we are not even aware of the fact that we’re making decisions. Researchers at Max Planck Institute proved that the brain predicts people’s decision seven seconds before they were even aware of making them. 

This schematic shows the brain regions (green) from which the outcome of a participant's decision can be predicted before it is made. Courtesy John-Dylan Haynes.

On the other hand, the ability of choice is has a significant meaning for individuals and groups.

Individuals ‘enjoy’ making choices. The ever-growing number of microbrewery offers new choices of flavour. People take their 'preferences' seriously -- "I'm not just a vegetarian, I'm a lacto-ovo vegetrian".

Choices empower choosers, as the action of choosing creates a feeling of ‘ownership’ and 'control'.  At the workplace, we all know that micromanagement kills performance.  Leading companies talk about 'bring the power back to the people'. They are aspired to build self-steering teams. 

This tension between perceived autonomy and its neural basis raises a few questions:

These are the questions the next We-breakfast meeting will address.

Are you a 'People Professional' who are passionate about making the people better in your organization? Join the conversation over breakfast at the top of A'DAM Tower on the 6th September. Only 10 seats are available. RSVP here today.


We-Breakfast meeting is a monthly social breakfast igniting the conversation about the overlapping space between neuroscience x performance. Each breakfast presents a topic from one of neuroscience principles that enhances performance. Previous meetings addressed Positivity and Labelling.

Autonomy is one of the 6 Principles that WeQ uses to build a stronger, more productive team & organization culture. Learn more about the complete Principle called P.L.A.C.E.S.


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