We may be better at deciding than we think

A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that people may be better at making decisions than they suspect. The study found individuals tend to be very good at judging how much time to spend making their mind up about certain choices.

Andreas Jarvstad of Cardiff University noted previous findings have suggested while adults are usually competent at making smaller decisions, those that require a greater degree of analysis - such as making a big financial selection - pose more problems.

However, Mr Jarvstad and colleagues discovered people are often capable of finding the right balance between spending lots of time on fewer options and rushing through with more decisions.

He stated: "It didn't seem to matter whether people were doing a low-level or a high-level task - they were equally good at deciding how much time to spend on these tasks."

According to the authors, humans may not necessarily be intrinsically better at lower-level decision-making than they are at more important ones, as is often assumed.

Professor Gerard Hodgkinson from the University of Warwick Business School, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, comments:

"Knowing how much time to devote to one task relative to another is an essential skill. Too little or too much time can have equally devastating or rewarding consequences.

"For instance, the hard-pressed surgeon who optimiszes patient throughput by glossing over seemingly trivial safety protocols, might well live to regret their actions in the event that their apparent efficiency gains resulted in loss of life.

"On the other hand, the surgeon who deviates from standard procedures in the midst of a major emergency might well save the day. The series of experiments reported in this article shed important light on this important fundamental problem.

"Contrary to expectations, the findings suggest that people as adept at timing tasks involving relatively complex cognitive processes as they are in timing basic perceptual decision tasks involving little or no cognition.

"The authors’ statistical analyses, which display the data pertaining to individual participants in a clear and transparent manner through appropriate visualization techniques, is exemplary. However, although ingenious, the four experiments are based on very small datasets and in each study several of the participants’ data run contrary to the more general pattern of findings detected.

"For me, it is these less typical  cases that raise the most intriguing questions for  future work. To what extent are these anomalous individuals genuine ‘outliers’, rather than exemplars of larger groups marked by psychologically salient  individual differences in ability and other attributes that might have a bearing on the decision to spend more or less time on the task at hand? This is indeed a fascinating article that looks set to open up a rich new vein of theory and research.”