So Many Decisions, So Little Time…

Yes or no, this or that… sometimes, having a lot of options isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While you may think that you are just making decisions based on the options in front of you, according to new research, your decision-making abilities may fluctuate throughout the day. The well-thought-out choice you thought you were making? Well, it may just be a reflection of your mental state.

According to research from social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister (link to http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/baumeister.dp.html),  there is a finite amount of energy allotted for self-control, meaning that the more decisions you make, the quicker you deplete this store. Decision-making saps willpower, making it easier and easier to give up on tasks as you go along. Think about the last time you had to make many decisions fairly quickly – after some time, most people begin to feel exhausted even though they aren’t doing much physical work.

According to a recent study by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso, even people whose jobs are based on their decision-making abilities can fall victim to decision-making exhaustion. This group of researchers studied judicial decisions and found that legal reasoning could not sufficiently explain why judges choose what they do. By breaking a judge’s day into three decision-making sessions, punctuated by a break for food, the researchers found that the likelihood that a prisoner was granted parole was highly correlated to when they were seen by the judge. Researchers found that the percentage of favorable rulings drops from about 65 percent to nearly zero during each segment of a judge’s day. Essentially, those up for parole were most likely to be granted parole the earlier the individual was seen during each decision-making session; those who were scheduled just before a break had almost no statistical possibility of parole. Once the judge took a break, the possibility of a favorable judgment returned to about 65 percent.

It became clear that those suffering from decision-making exhaustion behave in one of two ways – they either behave recklessly (think about how many quarterbacks throw a wild pass late in the game) or they refuse to make any decisions at all, refusing to do anything risky (like releasing a prisoner on parole).

Have you ever made decisions that were affected by your mental fatigue? Knowing how your ability to make decisions wanes throughout the day, will you make any changes to your schedule?

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