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The Gut, Decision Making, and Emotions

  May 06, 2019

By Luke Dalfiume, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Co-Owner,  John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates

Some speak about trusting their gut for decision-making. This suggests making a decision in a reflexive manner, choosing what “feels” right rather making decisions in a considered, deliberative way. Researchers have found people are happier making decisions this way.

Researcher Sam Maglio, PhD has said of his research in this area, “Focusing on feelings as opposed to logic in the decision-making process led participants to hold more certain attitudes toward and advocate more strongly for their choices.”

This can be helpful in many situations, such as when choosing a place to eat, a car or home to buy, or which exercise to engage in.

However, the certainty that gut decision-making gives can be harmful in situations involving other people. In marriage, for instance, decisions often have to work for both parties. When both are certain of their choice, and the choice is not the same, then gridlock and resentment may be the result. In work or political settings, this can cause difficulty as well. What this suggests is that, when a decision affects no one but ourselves, trusting our gut is often useful. However, when our decision can impact others, it would probably be best to let our guts inform us. We must then engage our more rational sides to make a case for our gut choice, then listen to others and take into consideration their views.

The bacteria in the gut can also directly impact our emotions. The gut is sometimes called “our second brain,” and is the only organ to have its own independent nervous system. Researchers have found “…that the gut microbiome can influence neural development, brain chemistry, and a wide range of behavioral phenomena, including emotional behavior, pain perception, and how the stress system responds.” There appears to be a two-way relationship between the brain and the gut: when the bacteria in the gut change, a person may feel either more bold or more anxious, and even mild emotional stress can change the bacteria in the gut, making one more susceptible to illness. It seems possible, then, to those who study this, that the use of probiotics may help in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

It is hypothesized that the gut bacteria communicate using the same neurochemicals the brain does — GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and melatonin — and that the brain receives messengers from and communicates to the gut using this chemical system. Some who study this believe this process of chemical communication begins at birth, and that exposure to normal gut bacterial development is important early on. If the early gut biome is not right, there may be lasting implications in terms of social and emotional development.

For more information or to book an appointment, contact John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates, located at 3716 West Brighton Ave., Peoria, or their additional loca-tions in Normal, Canton, Pekin, Princeton, or Eureka. Call us at  309-692-7755, or visit us online at

Sources available upon request. Back to Top

May 06, 2019


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