Monday, August 14, 2006

Paradoxes in Decision Making

I've been researching decision making in my lit review, and I'm seeing that others are poking around the topic as well:
  • Fascinating thoughts from Artichoke on educational freedom and choice in The New Zealand Curriculum Draft for consultation 2006: A scaffold for dissatisfaction and depression. It's an exploration of the paradox of choice and how the research might apply to educational reforms designed to increase the amount of choice at many levels in the system.
  • I'm not sure about Lovaglia's Law -- "the more important the outcome of a decision, the more people will resist using evidence to make it" -- but there does seem to be some research indicating a kernel of truth. I also was looking into this stuff earlier in the year, and my thought then was that better tools and learning could help us make better complex decisions, rather than just throwing up your hands and following your gut (ignoring the evidence) when there are too many variables.
  • Psychologist Daniel Gilbert is studying how people envision the effects of their decisions (affective forecasting pdf) and finding that most of us are terrible at forecasting the future impact of decisions and events in our lives (check out illuminating interviews here and here).
  • Paul Sas has studied what he has dubbed the Delmore Effect, which basically shows that "most people tend to set much more explicit goals for low priority domains than for their most important ambitions". There seems to be a common thread between his findings in goal-setting and decision-making, particularly in how we decide which goals to pursue (or learning goals, translating this to my research interest).
These few strands are all mixed up in a counterintuitive set of assumptions that seem all wrong:
  • the more important a decision is, the less likely we are to make a good (reasoned, evidence-based) decision
  • a decision with too many choices makes it so difficult to decide that the result tends to be disengagement rather than improved motivation
  • we make decisions based on our projections of the possible outcome, but those projections tend to be way off the mark, especially overestimating the impact of individual decisions
  • we tend to be better able to articulate (and probably pursue) goals that are less important to us


carlo95 said...

When I'm facing a tough decision, I always have the feeling that I'm gonna be ending up with the wrong one. And most of the time I do. I feel this is what paradox of decision making means.

Jeremy said...

You're not alone in that feeling, carlo95. I think that's the emerging theme in much of what I'm researching -- that people in general are not very good at complex decision making.