Knowing the Right Thing to Do
9 your constituents “have their say” is adequate for due process. In the
end, no one can claim: “You never told me that!” or “You never asked
The expectation of due process is deeply embedded in our culture.
Just as equitable decisions can take longer to make, providing due pro-
cess lengthens the time before your decision can take effect. However, the
decision will more likely be received well. People will have no surprises.
HOW RATIONAL ARE OUR DECISIONS?
Throughout the centuries, judges have held us to standards like “what
would a reasonable man do” in the same situation? Courts look to see if
we have a “rational basis” for our decisions. In criminal cases, juries
must find defendants guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Reasoned de-
cisions are respected.
Because the rational, objective decision-making process is favored
by the courts, letter-of-the-law decisions appear to be safer. Certainly
the documentation of objective facts and figures will hold sway with
courts. Like people, courts are not quick to change. Courts uphold prior
decisions in order to follow precedent (stare decisis). Even when scien-
tific research suggests that the court should revise and update stan-
dards, courts resist.
Recent research in the new and burgeoning field of neuroscience
(the study of how our relationships affect every cell in our bodies)
poses a challenge. Thanks to the functional MRI (fMRI), neuroscientists
can look into the inner workings of the brain. This research strongly
suggests that following a letter-of-the-law, rational process of decision
making does not produce our best decisions. In fact, our wisest deci-
sions may be those gut decisions that utilize all of our brain’s resources,
not just our IQ.
Paying attention to this developing research helps us under-
stand what neurobiological processes drive our wisest decisions. (See
Appendix: Helpful Websites.)
Rational Decisions and the Brain
The human brain has “grown up” in its own way. A comparatively
recent development in our brains is the orbital frontal cortex (OFC),
or our “executive function.” Located just beneath our foreheads are
brain pathways allowing us to assess situations and weigh decisions.
In short, the OFC enables us to think like an executive.