Difficult decisions may not be important ones

Individuals often assume that just because a decision is difficult to make, such a choice therefore goes up in importance. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which looked at why people tend to take so long selecting everyday items, such as toothbrushes and sandwiches.

Investigators from the University of Florida - home to more than 50,000 students - and the University of Pennsylvania described such actions as 'decision quicksand', with shoppers likely to spend more time and effort picking an item because they believe it is tricky to do so.

The authors noted: "Instead of realising that picking a toothbrush is a trivial decision, we confuse the array of options and excess of information with decision importance."

As a result, a person's brain thinks a choice is worthy of more attention - and this is more likely to occur when selections seem unimportant to begin with, as consumers anticipate they will be simple.

Chartered Psychologist Kisane Prutton, director of the Prutton Partnership, commented: "The frontal cortex is a key region of the brain involved in decision making and we know that this part of the brain consumes a lot of energy.

"We also know that having too many options can lead to 'choice overload'.

"Choosing among many alternatives is effortful in terms of the cognitive energy required to calculate the probability of making a successful choice, the potential payoffs and the potential for regret if we get it wrong.

"The greater the number of items to choose from, the greater the effort required to identify and consider them. This research is interesting as it suggests the brain is not discerning enough to differentiate effort from importance."