In psychology, decision-making is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice; it may or may not prompt action. Decision-making is the process of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision-maker.
- Problem analysis
- Analysis paralysis
- Information overload
- Post decision analysis
- Decision making techniques
- Group stages
- Rational and irrational
- Cognitive and personal biases
- Optimizing vs satisficing
- Intuitive vs rational
- Combinatorial vs positional
- Influence of Myers Briggs type
- In adolescents vs adults
Decision-making can be regarded as a problem-solving activity terminated by a solution deemed to be satisfactory. It is therefore a process which can be more or less rational or irrational and can be based on explicit or tacit knowledge.
Human performance with regard to decisions has been the subject of active research from several perspectives:
A major part of decision-making involves the analysis of a finite set of alternatives described in terms of evaluative criteria. Then the task might be to rank these alternatives in terms of how attractive they are to the decision-maker(s) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Another task might be to find the best alternative or to determine the relative total priority of each alternative (for instance, if alternatives represent projects competing for funds) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Solving such problems is the focus of multiple-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). This area of decision-making, although very old, has attracted the interest of many researchers and practitioners and is still highly debated as there are many MCDA methods which may yield very different results when they are applied on exactly the same data. This leads to the formulation of a decision-making paradox.
Logical decision-making is an important part of all science-based professions, where specialists apply their knowledge in a given area to make informed decisions. For example, medical decision-making often involves a diagnosis and the selection of appropriate treatment. But naturalistic decision-making research shows that in situations with higher time pressure, higher stakes, or increased ambiguities, experts may use intuitive decision-making rather than structured approaches. They may follow a recognition primed decision that fits their experience and arrive at a course of action without weighing alternatives.
The decision-maker's environment can play a part in the decision-making process. For example, environmental complexity is a factor that influences cognitive function. A complex environment is an environment with a large number of different possible states which come and go over time. Studies done at the University of Colorado have shown that more complex environments correlate with higher cognitive function, which means that a decision can be influenced by the location. One experiment measured complexity in a room by the number of small objects and appliances present; a simple room had less of those things. Cognitive function was greatly affected by the higher measure of environmental complexity making it easier to think about the situation and make a better decision.
Research about decision-making is also published under the label problem solving, in particular in European psychological research.
It is important to differentiate between problem analysis and decision-making. Traditionally, it is argued that problem analysis must be done first, so that the information gathered in that process may be used towards decision-making.
Analysis paralysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.
Information overload is "a gap between the volume of information and the tools we have to assimilate" it. Excessive information affects problem processing and tasking, which affects decision-making. Crystal C. Hall and colleagues described an "illusion of knowledge", which means that as individuals encounter too much knowledge it can interfere with their ability to make rational decisions.
Evaluation and analysis of past decisions is complementary to decision-making. See also Mental accounting and Postmortem documentation.
Decision-making techniques can be separated into two broad categories: group decision-making techniques and individual decision-making techniques. Individual decision-making techniques can also often be applied by a group.
In the 1980s, psychologist Leon Mann and colleagues developed a decision-making process called GOFER, which they taught to adolescents, as summarized in the book Teaching Decision Making To Adolescents. The process was based on extensive earlier research conducted with psychologist Irving Janis. GOFER is an acronym for five decision-making steps:
- Goals: Survey values and objectives.
- Options: Consider a wide range of alternative actions.
- Facts: Search for information.
- Effects: Weigh the positive and negative consequences of the options.
- Review: Plan how to implement the options.
In 2008, Kristina Guo published the DECIDE model of decision-making, which has six parts:
- Define the problem
- Establish or Enumerate all the criteria (constraints)
- Consider or Collect all the alternatives
- Identify the best alternative
- Develop and implement a plan of action
- Evaluate and monitor the solution and examine feedback when necessary
In 2007, Pam Brown of Singleton Hospital in Swansea, Wales, divided the decision-making process into seven steps:
- Outline your goal and outcome.
- Gather data.
- Develop alternatives (i.e., brainstorming).
- List pros and cons of each alternative.
- Make the decision.
- Immediately take action to implement it.
- Learn from and reflect on the decision.
In 2009, professor John Pijanowski described how the Arkansas Program, an ethics curriculum at the University of Arkansas, used eight stages of moral decision-making based on the work of James Rest:
- Establishing community: Create and nurture the relationships, norms, and procedures that will influence how problems are understood and communicated. This stage takes place prior to and during a moral dilemma.
- Perception: Recognize that a problem exists.
- Interpretation: Identify competing explanations for the problem, and evaluate the drivers behind those interpretations.
- Judgment: Sift through various possible actions or responses and determine which is more justifiable.
- Motivation: Examine the competing commitments which may distract from a more moral course of action and then prioritize and commit to moral values over other personal, institutional or social values.
- Action: Follow through with action that supports the more justified decision.
- Reflection in action.
- Reflection on action.
According to B. Aubrey Fisher, there are four stages or phases that should be involved in all group decision-making:
It is said that establishing critical norms in a group improves the quality of decisions, while the majority of opinions (called consensus norms) do not.
Rational and irrational
In economics, it is thought that if humans are rational and free to make their own decisions, then they would behave according to rational choice theory. Rational choice theory says that a person consistently makes choices that lead to the best situation for himself or herself, taking into account all available considerations including costs and benefits; the rationality of these considerations is from the point of view of the person himself, so a decision is not irrational just because someone else finds it questionable.
In reality, however, there are some factors that affect decision-making abilities and cause people to make irrational decisions – for example, to make contradictory choices when faced with the same problem framed in two different ways (see also Allais paradox).
Cognitive and personal biases
Biases usually affect decision-making processes. Here is a list of commonly debated biases in judgment and decision-making:
Optimizing vs. satisficing
Herbert A. Simon coined the phrase "bounded rationality" to express the idea that human decision-making is limited by available information, available time and the mind's information-processing ability. Further psychological research has identified individual differences between two cognitive styles: maximizers try to make an optimal decision, whereas satisficers simply try to find a solution that is "good enough". Maximizers tend to take longer making decisions due to the need to maximize performance across all variables and make tradeoffs carefully; they also tend to more often regret their decisions (perhaps because they are more able than satisficers to recognise that a decision turned out to be sub-optimal).
Intuitive vs. rational
The psychologist Daniel Kahneman, adopting terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West, has theorized that a person's decision-making is the result of an interplay between two kinds of cognitive processes: an automatic intuitive system (called "System 1") and an effortful rational system (called "System 2"). System 1 is a bottom-up, fast, and implicit system of decision-making, while system 2 is a top-down, slow, and explicit system of decision-making. System 1 includes simple heuristics in judgment and decision-making such as the affect heuristic, the availability heuristic, the familiarity heuristic, and the representativeness heuristic.
Combinatorial vs. positional
Styles and methods of decision-making were elaborated by Aron Katsenelinboigen, the founder of predispositioning theory. In his analysis on styles and methods, Katsenelinboigen referred to the game of chess, saying that "chess does disclose various methods of operation, notably the creation of predisposition-methods which may be applicable to other, more complex systems."
Katsenelinboigen states that apart from the methods (reactive and selective) and sub-methods (randomization, predispositioning, programming), there are two major styles: positional and combinational. Both styles are utilized in the game of chess. According to Katsenelinboigen, the two styles reflect two basic approaches to uncertainty: deterministic (combinational style) and indeterministic (positional style). Katsenelinboigen's definition of the two styles are the following.
The combinational style is characterized by:
In defining the combinational style in chess, Katsenelinboigen wrote: "The combinational style features a clearly formulated limited objective, namely the capture of material (the main constituent element of a chess position). The objective is implemented via a well-defined, and in some cases, unique sequence of moves aimed at reaching the set goal. As a rule, this sequence leaves no options for the opponent. Finding a combinational objective allows the player to focus all his energies on efficient execution, that is, the player's analysis may be limited to the pieces directly partaking in the combination. This approach is the crux of the combination and the combinational style of play.
The positional style is distinguished by:
"Unlike the combinational player, the positional player is occupied, first and foremost, with the elaboration of the position that will allow him to develop in the unknown future. In playing the positional style, the player must evaluate relational and material parameters as independent variables. ... The positional style gives the player the opportunity to develop a position until it becomes pregnant with a combination. However, the combination is not the final goal of the positional player – it helps him to achieve the desirable, keeping in mind a predisposition for the future development. The pyrrhic victory is the best example of one's inability to think positionally."
The positional style serves to:
Influence of Myers-Briggs type
According to Isabel Briggs Myers, a person's decision-making process depends to a significant degree on their cognitive style. Myers developed a set of four bi-polar dimensions, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The terminal points on these dimensions are: thinking and feeling; extroversion and introversion; judgment and perception; and sensing and intuition. She claimed that a person's decision-making style correlates well with how they score on these four dimensions. For example, someone who scored near the thinking, extroversion, sensing, and judgment ends of the dimensions would tend to have a logical, analytical, objective, critical, and empirical decision-making style. However, some psychologists say that the MBTI lacks reliability and validity and is poorly constructed.
Other studies suggest that these national or cross-cultural differences in decision-making exist across entire societies. For example, Maris Martinsons has found that American, Japanese and Chinese business leaders each exhibit a distinctive national style of decision-making.
Decision-making is a region of intense study in the fields of systems neuroscience, and cognitive neuroscience. Several brain structures, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex and the overlapping ventromedial prefrontal cortex are believed to be involved in decision-making processes. A neuroimaging study found distinctive patterns of neural activation in these regions depending on whether decisions were made on the basis of perceived personal volition or following directions from someone else. Patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex have difficulty making advantageous decisions.
A common laboratory paradigm for studying neural decision-making is the two-alternative forced choice task (2AFC), in which a subject has to choose between two alternatives within a certain time. A study of a two-alternative forced choice task involving rhesus monkeys found that neurons in the parietal cortex not only represent the formation of a decision but also signal the degree of certainty (or "confidence") associated with the decision. Another recent study found that lesions to the ACC in the macaque resulted in impaired decision-making in the long run of reinforcement guided tasks suggesting that the ACC may be involved in evaluating past reinforcement information and guiding future action. A 2012 study found that rats and humans can optimally accumulate incoming sensory evidence, to make statistically optimal decisions.
Emotion appears able to aid the decision-making process. Decision-making often occurs in the face of uncertainty about whether one's choices will lead to benefit or harm (see also Risk). The somatic-marker hypothesis is a neurobiological theory of how decisions are made in the face of uncertain outcome. This theory holds that such decisions are aided by emotions, in the form of bodily states, that are elicited during the deliberation of future consequences and that mark different options for behavior as being advantageous or disadvantageous. This process involves an interplay between neural systems that elicit emotional/bodily states and neural systems that map these emotional/bodily states. A recent lesion mapping study of 152 patients with focal brain lesions conducted by Aron K. Barbey and colleagues provided evidence to help discover the neural mechanisms of emotional intelligence.
Although it is unclear whether the studies generalize to all processing, subconscious processes have been implicated in the initiation of conscious volitional movements. See the Neuroscience of free will.
In adolescents vs. adults
During their adolescent years, teens are known for their high-risk behaviors and rash decisions. Recent research has shown that there are differences in cognitive processes between adolescents and adults during decision-making. Researchers have concluded that differences in decision-making are not due to a lack of logic or reasoning, but more due to the immaturity of psychosocial capacities that influence decision-making. Examples of their undeveloped capacities which influence decision-making would be impulse control, emotion regulation, delayed gratification and resistance to peer pressure. In the past, researchers have thought that adolescent behavior was simply due to incompetency regarding decision-making. Currently, researchers have concluded that adults and adolescents are both competent decision-makers, not just adults. However, adolescents' competent decision-making skills decrease when psychosocial capacities become present.
Recent research has shown that risk-taking behaviors in adolescents may be the product of interactions between the socioemotional brain network and its cognitive-control network. The socioemotional part of the brain processes social and emotional stimuli and has been shown to be important in reward processing. The cognitive-control network assists in planning and self-regulation. Both of these sections of the brain change over the course of puberty. However, the socioemotional network changes quickly and abruptly, while the cognitive-control network changes more gradually. Because of this difference in change, the cognitive-control network, which usually regulates the socioemotional network, struggles to control the socioemotional network when psychosocial capacities are present.
When adolescents are exposed to social and emotional stimuli, their socioemotional network is activated as well as areas of the brain involved in reward processing. Because teens often gain a sense of reward from risk-taking behaviors, their repetition becomes ever more probable due to the reward experienced. In this, the process mirrors addiction. Teens can become addicted to risky behavior because they are in a high state of arousal and are rewarded for it not only by their own internal functions but also by their peers around them.
Adults are generally better able to control their risk-taking because their cognitive-control system has matured enough to the point where it can control the socioemotional network, even in the context of high arousal or when psychosocial capacities are present. Also, adults are less likely to find themselves in situations that push them to do risky things. For example, teens are more likely to be around peers who peer pressure them into doing things, while adults are not as exposed to this sort of social setting.
A recent study suggests that adolescents have difficulties adequately adjusting beliefs in response to bad news (such as reading that smoking poses a greater risk to health than they thought), but do not differ from adults in their ability to alter beliefs in response to good news. This creates biased beliefs, which may lead to greater risk taking.