ASU researchers confirm brain’s decision-making function

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ASU researchers are finding out what makes people tick.

ASU Associate business professor Pierre Balthazard and independent scientist Kathy Kolbe hope to apply data from a new scientific study on the third faculty of the brain, called conation, to learn what drives people.

The study, administered at Kolbe Corp., Kolbe’s company, examined the brains of 117 leaders from a variety of fields. It is the first scientific proof of the existence of conation as a function of the brain.

Conation is a separate but cooperative function of the brain that influences how people make decisions, Balthazard said.

Kolbe hopes to use the information from this and further studies on the topic to help people make better decisions and learn about what drives them, she said.

Balthazard wants to apply the findings from the Oct. 6 study to teach the future leaders of the world at ASU.

“I predict we will apply this knowledge to enhance managerial performance, decision making and leadership,” he said.

Conation is associated with a person’s will, impulse or instinct and has never been studied scientifically before now. This puts ASU in the history books on conation, Balthazard said.

Separate from conation, the “cognitive faculty” of the brain relates to how an individual handles information. It is associated with learning and intellect, Balthazard said.
The “affective faculty” deals with emotion and personality and how the brain handles them.

A faculty is a part of the brain responsible for certain thought processes.

“Conation drives everything and it is just as fundamental as cognition and affection,” Balthazard said.

Balthazard’s research at ASU studies leaders in today’s society to determine what qualities lead to good decision-making.

The EDGE Innovation Network, an organization that consolidates innovative scientific research, originally introduced Kolbe and Balthazard a year ago because those at the network thought the two had similar research goals.

“Our research interests had a lot in common,” Kolbe said.

Balthazard brought his experience with electroencephalograms, machines that scan for brain activity, as well as previous research on leaders’ motivations, while Kolbe brought 30 years of previous research on conation to the table.

Although philosophers as far back as Plato and Aristotle speculated on conation, scientific proof of it had yet to be found before the study, Kolbe said.

Kolbe discovered the four action modes of conation 30 years ago through extensive research.

The four modes are engrained tendencies, or instincts, in an individual’s brain that work together to form a person’s modus operandi, which deals with his or her habits or work approach, Kolbe said.

The four action modes deal with information intake, information storage, risk taking and sensory learning.

Kolbe worked with Balthazard and a team of ASU researchers to scan the brains of 117 individuals in leadership positions, from former athletes, to a three-star general, to business CEOs.
“Community leaders lent us their brains, so to speak,” Kolbe said.

The subjects were put in stressful situations through tests and their brains were scanned to see how they instinctively reacted to the strain, Kolbe said.

The scans showed that different neural connections were made related directly to each action mode. These pathways were different than those used in either cognition or affection, and were different for each person, Kolbe said.

Kolbe added that conation is not a learned process, but like DNA, is set from birth.
“You can learn more and your attitudes can change, but conation is the bedrock of who you are,” she said.

Ty Crossley, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Management at the W. P. Carey School, worked to gather and analyze the brain scan results.

“This is cutting edge research, with a very unique application,” Crossley said in an e-mail. “ASU has the opportunity to be at the forefront of it.”

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