decision making with arrows decision making with arrows How will you know where to go if you don't have all the facts? (Photo: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock)

Think you know how to make decisions? Think again

New study says our rushes to judgment are making it harder for us to take in all the facts. But it's not always a bad thing.

A new study shows that people take less time to make decisions than previously thought – and that might not be such good news.

In theory, the ubiquitous and constant flow of information should allow for super-informed, data-driven decisions on almost every topic, from whether or not you should do the dishes to who you should vote for in the next election. But according to two researchers from the University of Chicago – Israel-born Nadav Klein and American-born Ed O’Brien – people tend to make snap judgments even when they have a plethora of information and research at their disposal.

Nadav Klein headshot Nadav Klein, Ph.D. (Photo: Courtesy)

"The immediacy of human judgment generally surprises people," said Klein, an experimental psychologist who specializes in increasing our understanding of how we judge our own and other people's actions and character. "Individuals fail to anticipate how little information they and others use when making decisions."

The researchers used three experiments to conduct their study: In one, they asked participants to imagine having pleasant or unpleasant interactions with another person, while also asking another group of participants to predict how many of those interactions they would need to determine someone's character. The result was that people believed they would need many interactions to make this judgment, when in fact the first group needed few.

In the second experiment, they asked MBA students to write applications for fake management positions, and then asked actual HR people to read their materials. The applicants wrote and shared much more material than the hiring professionals cared to read.

Job interview Next time you're applying for a job, think about what the hiring manager really wants to know. (Photo: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

Finally, the researchers asked people who have never been married to predict how long, after meeting their future spouse, it would take them to decide that this person is "the one." They also asked married people the same question. Of the singles who responded, 39 percent thought they would need to date this person more than a year before they'd feel ready to commit to a lifetime of matrimony. But in the married group, only 18 percent said it took them more than a year to decide their partner was "the one."

So why, with so much information available to them, do people make judgments that usually end up being wrong?

Klein has a few guesses. "One possibility is a belief that the human mind processes information incrementally," he said. "Another ... is that people fail to realize how rich and engrossing each separate piece of information is. In psychology, this is called an empathy gap."

But, he emphasized, quick rushes to judgment aren't always a bad thing. "It would be crippling to comb through all the available information on a topic every time a decision must be made," he said. "Sometimes snap judgments are remarkably accurate and they can save time."

ethical choices The best way to avoid the wrong choice is to reflect on the long-term consequences to your own ethical self-image. (Photo: ra2studio /Shutterstock)

Most important, he said, is acknowledging that we might be jumping to conclusions too quickly and before we've taken in the facts. "Modern technology allows virtually any decision made today to be more informed than the same decision made a few decades ago," Klein said. "But the human reliance on quick judgments may forestall this promise."

Much of Klein's research falls in step with the work of his colleague and fellow Israeli, Dr. Ayelet Fishbach, a popular psychology professor at the University of Chicago and expert on human behavior. Fishbach joined an episode of our podcast recently, and you can listen to it here:

And Klein's research partner, 32-year-old Ed O'Brien, has done extensive research on the effects of such circumstances as having a happy spouse, giving and receiving gifts, and having fun even if you didn't earn it.


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Related Topics: Science

Think you know how to make decisions? Think again
New University of Chicago study says our rushes to judgment are making it harder for us to take in all the facts. But it's not always a bad thing.