Making better decisions

New Scientist mag has a May 2007 article on “Top 10 ways to make better decisions“. Here is what I got from it.

  1. Don’t fear the consequences
    > Rather than looking inwards and imagining how a given outcome might make you feel, try to find someone who has made the same decision or choice, and see how they felt. Remember also that whatever the future holds, it will probably hurt or please you less than you imagine. Finally, don’t always play it safe. The worst might never happen – and if it does you have the psychological resilience to cope.

  2. Go with your gut instincts
    > faced with a simple choice, subjects picked better cars if they could think things through. When confronted by a complex decision, however, they became bamboozled and actually made the best choices when they did not consciously analyse the options.

    • Consider your emotions
      This is a difficult one. Experiments show that people disconnected from their emotions due to neural damage have trouble making even basic decisions. On the other hand, anger and disgust can affect choices where the situation is unrelated to what triggered the emotion.

    • Play the devil’s advocate
      Work against the “confirmation bias”, our tendency to ignore evidence that goes against our opinions. Or at least recognize that the bias exists.

    • Keep your eye on the ball

      Our decisions and judgements have a strange and disconcerting habit of becoming attached to arbitrary or irrelevant facts and figures.

      Buying something because of a discounted “sale price” is an example. Only the price should really matter, not how much it is supposedly discounted.

      • Don’t cry over spilt milk
        This is about the sunk cost fallacy: “the more we invest in something, the more commitment we feel towards it.”.

      • Look at it another way
        This concerns the framing effect: “the choices we make are irrationally coloured by the way the alternatives are presented. In particular, we have a strong bias towards options that seem to involve gains, and an aversion to ones that seem to involve losses.”
        This leads to taking more risks to avoid losses than to obtain gains. Reframing the problem to look at it from the other side of the gain/loss perspective might help. [Not sure I understand this.]

      • Beware social pressure

        How can you avoid the malign influence of social pressure? First, if you suspect you are making a choice because you think it is what your boss would want, think again. If you are a member of a group or committee, never assume that the group knows best, and if you find everyone agreeing, play the contrarian. Finally, beware situations in which you feel you have little individual responsibility – that is when you are most likely to make irresponsible choices.

      • Limit your options
        Trying to maximize the best outcome by deliberating over all possible options, as opposed to being satisfied with “good enough”, can lead to less satisfaction.

      • Have someone else choose
        When there is little information to go on, or the decision is trivial or has only distasteful options, it can be more satisfying to let someone (or even something) else choose.

      (Via a blog post by Kol Tregaskes.)