We all have to make choices. Like whether to get the cheesecake or the apple pie. Well, agonize no longer. Because a study published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that it doesn’t matter which you choose. That just being able to make a choice is reward in itself.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were studying how neurons in the pleasure center of rats’ brains respond to different rewards. In their test, rats could belly up to one of two bars to receive a tasty sip of sugar water. At one of the troughs, however, the drinks were bigger, and the waiting-time less. But here’s the catch: at the start of each trial, the rat would receive a signal telling him which to choose. One said “you’ve won the big prize,” a second said “you get the consolation prize,” and a third said “pick whichever you want.”
Well, as you might expect, when a rat knew it had hit the jackpot, neurons in its pleasure center jumped for joy. But these “happy cells” reacted the exact same way in rats who were allowed to choose, whether or not the animals went on to claim the better prize. So cheesecake, apple pie, whichever. Just relax and savor the deliberation.