Making decisions: 12 surprising facts about decision making

Around 20,000 decisions are made daily. Most of them lightning fast. It starts with getting up: As soon as the alarm clock beeps, the index finger hits the snooze button - you decide: five more minutes of twilight sleep! But that means less time for breakfast - so skip a second cup of coffee. The next decision. And so on. Much of this happens unconsciously, and given the scale of our daily choices, we can be lucky that some of them are trivial. In the job, however, we also come in a lot of situations in which we have to decide lightning fast , without really wanting it. And we are there with a probability of about 60 percent under time pressure ...

Head or stomach?
Many of our spontaneous judgments we meet unconsciously and from the gut. But are they better for that? Amazing wise: yes. At least most.

The New York journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote the bestseller Blink about the power of intuition ! , Like Gladwell, many are convinced: gut decisions are no worse than those of the mind, but many times faster.

For example, psychologist Sian Leah Beilock of the University of Chicago found that professional golfers play best when they do not have time to think about their batting. Only for beginners, it is the other way around.

Feelings do not obscure the mind.

Another attempt was made by US neurologist Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa. He included probands in the early nineties on a kind of lie detector and let them play with prepared cards. The first card game made big profits, the second one small. Both stacks of cards were interspersed with red cards for which you had to pay a fine. The trick: In the second stack, there were fewer penalty cards, so in the long run, it paid to play. From the 50th card it dawned on most subjects.

The evaluation of the detector but brought the real sensation: The instinct had warned the subjects from the 10th card.

Decisiveness is more than a decision to make
"If you have to make a decision and you do not hit it, that's a decision, too," US psychologist William James mused wisely. But decisiveness means more than making a choice at all.

She makes sure that you are completely committed to your cause, that you do not keep your back door open and concentrate all your energy on the success of your goal . Anyone who has decided to run a marathon can not sit lazily on the couch every night, but has to work out daily. Determination means consciously choosing and acting. There is also a nice bon mot:

Do what you want - but really!

And there are studies that show that such an attitude is tremendously creative and productive. Those who hesitate and hesitate a long time, postpone their decisions and, what is worse, drift away both the respect of others and those of themselves.

However, decisiveness can also make those affected obsessed. And this side of her is a fire hazard. As much as terrier virtues are valued - too much doggedness always seems unsonvenient and convulsive. When Christopher Columbus convinced the Spanish court to finance his voyage of discovery, he demanded at the same time to receive the insane title "Grand Admiral of the Ocean". In the process, Columbus proved to be a navigational fool. Instead of a sea route to India, he discovered America. Lucky for luck: The new country was also rich and saved his career for the time being. Had the brisk "Grand Admiral" returned empty-handed, his chutzpah would have been rated differently.

Loss Fears: The Psychology of Decisions
However, it is true that with every decision for something, we exclude dozens of alternatives :

You choose for an iPhone and against all other smartphones that also could have purchased (and three things it buys yes no one in their right mind).
You choose for a mate and close all the other love affairs that you perhaps also could have had. Anyway, that's usually the case.
Unfortunately, we humans often pay more attention to the loss associated with the decision and mourn it afterwards, as we are pleased about the object of our choice. And that causes us to make rather stupid decisions for fear of losses , those that promise short-term rewards.

The American behavioral economist and renowned researcher Dan Ariely has been able to show this in countless experiments.

For example, in one of them the subjects sat in front of a computer and saw three doors - red, green, blue. They were allowed to click on one, then a room opened with three more doors. Again red, green, blue. There was money in each of these rooms at different levels that her computer-me could collect. So there was a need to find those doors behind which was a particularly large amount, in order to maximize the profit. In addition, the subjects had a total of 100 clicks.

Ostensibly, it was about developing a decision-making strategy to get the most out of the limited options. Simply clicking back and forth indiscriminately reduced the profit outlook.

But now Ariely used a perfidious trick: If a particular door was not clicked twelve times, it simply disappeared. Effect: As soon as the participants noticed this refinement, they began to click wildly, to avoid the door closing permanently. Of course, they were blasting far too many of their limited options and ultimately diminished returns.

What's more, if they had simply continued as before (and remained faithful to their decisions), they would have achieved a maximum - because in fact only the options became less and thus the chances to tap next, but not the money.

The dilemma of long-term decisions
It is the main problem of elections that are based on long-term goals : we have to make the decision here, now, today - but we will see and feel its result or success only in the future.

Example career choice: What we study or what profession we choose, we have to decide shortly after graduation. Whether the choice was right and whether it actually gives us a job and a career is not clear until the end of the training and then we need a while to get more clarity about it.

A dilemma, that. And one that lets us make some short-sighted choices when in doubt. Quite a few opt therefore for a short-term solution . After all, promises a kind of instant reward by faster success: Dear the sparrow in the hand as the pigeon on the roof and so ...

It is ultimately a compromise that we conclude: while we may not choose exactly what we want, at least it does have some immediate benefits. Dangerous! A compromise may not be that bad, but many compromises in a row can take us a long way from our original goal. We turn off more and more often and end up somewhere else than we wanted. Many have lost their way and got burned.

However, to avoid the temptation and still achieve its goals , there are a few simple tricks ...

Be aware that you are making a compromise - and thus deviate from your original plan. Most of the time we do not make noticeably bad decisions, but we make concessions because they promise us at least a short-term success. But they may still take us further from our ultimate goal.
Force yourself for a short break. If you realize that you're back to making a more short-term or short-sighted choice (and often do), then you force yourself to take a break to lower the decision-making stress. The trick: This reduces the need for the instant reward of the speed dial.
Switch to the eagle's perspective. Basically, it is the best advice before any hard decision: step back and look at the scenario from a different, broader perspective. Where does the choice lead you in the long term? What are the consequences? What future opportunities? If you do not see it all, you only respond to acute stress.
Switch off sources of interference. If you have to make an important decision, you should know all the relevant information and eliminate any external stress factors (assumptions, opinions, fears), right? Quite simple, but we often behave quite differently - and wonder about lousy decisions. The conclusion: Make far-reaching elections only when you have the peace and relevance for it.
Granted, the four points represent an enormously simplified concept that reads more complicated than it is. Once internalized, everyday decisions can be made better within a few minutes.

Why we defend wrong decisions
As if that was not bad enough, we lie afterwards even in the bag. Man is not only the crown of creation, but unfortunately also great in creating his own reality: "I make me the world, widdewid how I like it," lamented Pippi Longstocking. What belonged to the popular Romangöre for joyous self-understanding, however, ends in real life, unfortunately, in a universe of self-deception, whitewashing and self-righteousness .

Let's say you could choose between two potential partners. However, at your option, you would suddenly be linked to the one partner you did not choose . Would you remember that? Surely you would! However, a remarkable experiment by the psychologists Lars Hall and Petter Johansson from the University of Lund in Sweden shows that we often do not notice the difference in a more abstract implementation - and the supposedly wrong mate choiceeven for gold right hold. For example, one test person stated that she preferred women with earrings - only the lady she refused had earrings. Another person gave a smile on the photo as a crucial argument. The image in his hand, however, showed no smiling face - only the originally chosen face was friendly.

Hall and Johansson called the phenomenon Choice Blindness ; in German the term Wahlblindheit is used.

Non-voters: That's why we do not decide, though we should
There are experiments after their reading you know what you do not know. Or one is then more convinced of the unbelievable stupidity of man , than of his often subordinate intelligence. In this category of scientific experiments also includes the so-called Becher-attempt of the American economist Jack Knetsch.

In his 1989 experiment he gave students a coffee cup and asked them shortly if they would be willing to swap the cup for a chocolate bar . 90 percent preferred to keep the cup. And they were not diabetics! The same number worked the other way around: the people first got a chocolate bar and were then asked if they would swap it for a coffee mug. Now around 90 percent stayed with the candy.

Decision paralysis means that in jargon and means that sometimes we would prefer not to decide. The main thing is that everything stays the same. Even if that may not be so good: the job is no longer fun anymore. The partner at home is just getting bored. Sex is as exciting as marching music. Everything boring, boring and annoying. But can not that please stay that way? Just out of habit, routine and comfort?

You have what you have, that is what we humans often think. Just do not give the warm, fragrant coffee back! Just do not give up the job that robs you of a long sleep and joy of life ! Just do not work on the partnership, even though the fire of passion has long since withered away! Nice stupid. Because sometimes stopping is better than preserving. Sure, sometimes it's the other way around, you can not judge that in the end . But one can consciously decide to do so - even if at first glance it is annoyingly annoying to have to weigh again.

12 things you did not know about decisions:
In general, it is worthwhile to study the psychology of decisions a little more extensively. We have summarized the 12 most remarkable research results for you below.

In the dark, we make more rational decisions.
The next time you face an important decision and want to make it more rational than emotional - please dim the light. No joke. Researchers led by Alison Jing Xu of the Rotman School of Management and Aparna Labroo of Northwestern University want to find out that bright light enhances our emotions, whether positive or negative. Does this mean for everyday life: For example, if you sell a lot of emotional products - such as flowers - it might make sense to illuminate your shop brightly. On the other hand, if you want to hold a difficult (diplomatic) negotiation or attend a meeting in which, above all, a factual decision should be made, you better dim the light.

With full bladder we make better decisions.
Do not laugh! Scientists from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have actually investigated this . As a result, the fuller the bladder, and the more probands scuttled on the spot, the more likely they were to choose long-term goals and benefits. Interesting side effect in the control group: Just the thought of words, the persons associated with the urination, led to similar effects. Urination effectExperts call that, and the reasoning is quite rational: Apparently, if we can control an impulse, we also gain control over various other impulses. Or to put it simply: Whoever manages to suppress his urge to urinate in the short term (!) Can also better resist short-term temptations.

Stress leads to riskier decisions.
Especially managers should be aware of this effect. Many of them are under pressure day in, day out. However, as Canadian scientists around Theodore Noseworthy of the University of Guelph found , managers in the case tend to opt for the riskier alternative. The stress rationally distanced them from the potential negative and long-term consequences for the company and also emotionally corrupted them. As is so common for alpha animals, those in stress prefer to go into attack mode, although under normal circumstances they demonstrably have balanced problem-solving skills. If managers do not have that outward pressure, they weigh more carefully, reflect more and choose better, as Noseworthy summarizes.

We usually choose the first option.
If we have to quickly choose between several alternatives, we usually opt for the first option. And that's regardless of whether it's consumer goods or business strategies, according to a study by Dana R. Carneyfrom the University of California at Berkeley and her colleague Mahzarin R. Banaji, psychology professor at Harvard University. The explanation, however, is quite simple: If we decide between different job offers, for example, then we rather choose the first position in the list, because this is often our dream job. Means: The list was prioritized before. Because that is the case, we are conditioning ourselves at the same time. Motto: The first is the best. And once learned, we remain faithful to this pattern in later decisions.

The majority opts for known.
This psycho-effect is closely related to the previous one and shows the agony of choice is sometimes nonexistent. Scientists have been researching for years what factors help people make better decisions. One of these simple rules is the so-called recognition heuristic : Afterwards, we prefer the one we recognize again when judging several objects. In behavioral experiments, this preference has been proven many times. In the meantime, however, neuroscientific studies have also shown that "the decision-maker can actually be guided by a sense of familiarity," says Timm Rosburg, for example, who runs such a studytogether with his colleagues Saarbrücken Axel Mecklinger and Christian has published. So if you have to choose between two things, you tend to prefer the already known alternative. Although such behavior often leads to correct decisions. In some situations, however, the recognition heuristic lends itself to wrong judgments, for example on the stock market: More well-known companies are often rated better there than they are - and that's just because of their frequent mention in the media.

If you can not decide, you need an alternative.
In technical jargon, this phenomenon also means decoy effect, Discovered by the American marketing professor Joel Huber. In 1982, he asked several test subjects whether they would rather dine in a five-star far-away restaurant or in a nearby three-star restaurant. Given such a vague description, the choice was not easy. After all, the subjects were supposed to compare apples to pears - and some of those they'd never tasted (to stay in the picture). But now Huber offered them a third alternative: they could also dine in a four-star restaurant, even further away than the five-star restaurant. In fact, that was a classic non-information. Do you know more about the benefits of restaurant one, two or three? Just. However, something amazing happened: The participants decided suddenly and easily for the five-star restaurant. The baitdecoy ) formed a kind of scale for her, a measuring crutch, with which the other two options suddenly became much easier to compare.

Good mood decide more generously.
Care, if you're in a really good mood and then have to make a choice! If you are positive, you will decide suboptimal. In any case, the result of an investigation at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Basel could be summarized. Above all, so-called sequential decisions were examined. They are quite common in everyday life - such as when buying a home or looking for a job: you get successively different offers, which you can accept or reject. If you refuse, the offer is no longer available. In these decisions, the quality of the choice is closely related to how many tenders are evaluated. Both too short and too long a search are problematic: If you look too short, you might miss the best offer; Anyone who postpones his election forever, can gamble away his chance as well, because then another comes before. The Basel researchers now wondered if their own mood has an influence on it. Lo and behold, the happier the subjects were, the faster they accepted an option. Interestingly, older people were more affected by this effect than younger people.

Bad moods look clearer.
As Australian psychologist Joe Forgas of the University of New South Wales has noted, scotchers are gaining more attention. At that time, Forgas had his subjects watch different films and remember positive or negative moments in their lives to put them in a good or bad mood. Then he gave them tasks to solve: The participants should judge about the veracity of urban legends or the testimony of witnesses. In both cases, the bad-tempered ones performed noticeably better, made fewer mistakes and communicated their judgments more confidently - even in written form they argued better.

Anger makes decisions more rational.
Scientists led by Maia Young of the Anderson School of Management in California found that annoying people often make more rational decisions - because anger suppresses classical bias factors ( confirmation bias ). In the experiments, the subjects were discussing various articles and whether a hands-free system makes driving a car safer. Result: Those who were previously (manipulatively) annoyed, more readily grabbed the contrary texts and was afterwards also more willing to question his previously prepared opinion in a subsequent debate or even change.

Who wants to decide better, should get up.
If one believes a study by the psychologist Frank Fischer of the Munich-based LMU, simply getting up will lead to better decisions: Fischer and his colleagues analyzed the behavior of their subjects in various test offices with ergonomic chairs, pin boards, and height-adjustable tables in a series of empirical studies. In the end it turned out that those who got up more often and worked standing up had 24 percent more ideas and made better decisions 25 percent of the time than the fraction that had stayed behind.

High bonuses lead to better decisions.
Actually, it's an old hat that affects money choices. Above all, bonuses and other bonuses mean that employees do not always decide for the benefit of the customer or the company - but in favor of their own payroll. However, Harvard researchers Shawn A. Cole, Martin Kanz and Leora Klapper have discovered that making big bonuses leads to better choices. In this particular case, the bank employees worked immediately more thoroughly and examined the loan applications more intensively.

Well-rested choose wiser.
Even morally! Just one hour of sleep deprivation can dramatically decrease our response rates, make slower and worse decisions and take higher risks, according to a study by Virginie Godet-Cayré of the Center for Health Economics and Administration Research in France. Conversely, the blessings of healthy sleep are equally underpinned. Sleeping makes you smart and creative.

Decisions make you tired
If you have to decide much, you lose a good part of your mental capacity. That's what psychologist Kathleen Vohs found out.

In one of their various experiments, students should prepare for a test, but were previously confronted with a course choice. They already performed worse in the test than the control group.
On the second try, the subjects were sent to shopping in a mall. There they undoubtedly made a lot of consumer decisions. Vohs then subjected her to a math test: Once again, shoppers made more mistakes than the control group.
The conclusion: decisions make you tired . Whether you meet them voluntarily or under pressure, whether they are fun or not, they are powering us out. The Constant Choice - It's Really Torturing Now. If you're facing important decisions, you may not want to meet them at the end of a busy and decision-making day.

Decision dilemma: dealing with contradictions
Above all, there is one way of thinking in our Western culture : the critical-analytical one.

The mindset goes back to the Greek philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle. Even they tried to approach the truth by logical comparison and judgment . With the truth, they wanted to find the "right" approach and reject all others as "wrong".

This critical thinking is undeniable in certain areas of high value, since it has established a scientific tradition that has brought great progress.

Man wants a consistent world. Contradictions are deeply unpleasant and difficult to bear. In technical jargon we speak of cognitive dissonance : we recognize that there is a gap between option one and option two. It is a negative emotional state that arises whenever we are confronted with incompatible perceptions , thoughts, opinions, attitudes, desires or intentions. What is right and what is wrong? The result is a decision dilemma.

Logic also knows this problem. The philosopher, mathematician and logician Bertrand Russell formulated it as a Babier paradox :

One can define a barber as one who shaves all those and only those who do not shave themselves.

The question arises: Shaves the barber himself? The attempt to answer the question results in a contradiction. If the man shaves himself, he is no longer a barber, because a barber is someone who only shaves others, but not himself. If he does not shave himself, he is one of those men who do not shave themselves and have to shave with them be his own customer. Do you recognize the problem? Does it resist you to accept this?

Tips for dealing with contradictions
Because we are reluctant to accept contradictions . We want the simple solution. We automatically feel the desire to reduce the inconsistency. But what is forgotten is that both options can exist side by side. With the view of the human being is always argued over whether man is good or bad. Instead of opting for one, the complementary answer is : Man is good and evil. It is a complement of both opposites.

This can also be transferred to the personal level . For questions like:

Freedom or security?
Order or chaos?
Proximity or distance?
Trust or control?
What we basically want is the best of both options . Therefore it needs a compromise. One way to deal with contradictions is to find a compromise. Broken down to a simple formula: find a solution that partially satisfies both claims .

What helps you:

Say goodbye to either / or thinking. Rather than understanding both options as incompatible, try to see them as two parts of a whole. You do not have to give up one thing for the other, but look for a way to connect the two sides.
Decide on the weighting. What is really important to you? It depends on your situation and it can change at any time. It's all about finding out which mix is ​​the right one. What feels good. For example, the need for freedom and sometimes for safety may prevail.
Do not look for the right way. The term "right" suggests that there is a universal path or decision. But for most situations this is not true. That's why "right" is always to be seen in the context of "right for me". Keep that in mind, it will make it easier for you to break expectations.

Decision: The 10-10-10 model
From Suzy Welch (this is the wife of ex-General Electric boss Jack Welch) comes the so-called 10-10-10 model , with which decisions can be made relatively simple and fast . To this end, she advises first to research and collect all essential information on the decision problem, but under the following premises:

What effect does my decision have in 10 days ?
What impact does it have in 10 months ?
What effects does it have in 10 years ?
Sounds trivial. It is. However, such a selection process helps to sharpen the view towards the future and the long-term effects of the election. If you are looking for a new job, you should play through the 10-10-10 model and ask yourself if he or she really gets the job where he or she wants to go in ten years.

The Abilene paradox
Abilene paradoxIn fact, we first know that others do not agree, if they say so. In other words, we often interpret silence as approval , with the effect that everyone is silent in the extreme and everyone believes everyone is in favor, but in truth they all want the opposite.

In professional circles, this phenomenon is also known as the Abilene paradox . It says that some decisions just look like they're based on consensus. In fact, they are due to wrong perceptions and therefore lead to a voting behavior that runs counter to the original intention.

The paradox discovered Jerry Harvey, a professor at George Washington University, in 1974 after a trip with his wife and parents to his hometown Abilene (hence the name). He had started the journey because someone in the family suggested it, assuming that the others needed a change . Everyone agreed, because everyone believed that each other was also for the journey. After returning but turned out: Actually, all would have preferred to stay at home.

Harvey later transferred this knowledge to typical mismanagement and voting behavior in organizations, especially in meetings.

Jim Westphal, a colleague of Harvey at the University of Michigan, has been able to show that this paradox also prevails at the highest management level, such as a director's board. In addition, he collected data from more than 228 boards, the result: quite often, the managers do not contradict each other and the strategy once chosen, although they have strong doubts about their accuracy .

The consequence is clear: The companies fall back in the competition, do botched or even fail. Nevertheless, even then, managers stick to their strategy because they accept it from others as well; Thank the Abilene paradox.

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