Are Your Decision-Making Skills Distorted?

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Despite our best intentions to make healthy choices in our...

Despite our best intentions to make healthy choices in our life, we’ve also likely made some ill-advised decisions. What influences these choices? What brings us to the final decision we make?

Recent research suggests our decisions are majorly impacted by our initial preferences, which experts have labeled predecisional information distortion. An example of this shopping for a laptop and liking the first one you see. Even though you continue to shop around, nothing else catches your eye and you end up purchasing that laptop.


Your initial preference biased you against any options that followed. Even if you saw laptops that may have been better options, you didn’t choose them because your decision was distorted by this bias.

Why Does This Happen?

Psychologists have proposed two reasons why predecisional information distortion occurs.

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Too many options: Although having multiple choices may seem advantageous, it can actually work against us. When presented with too many options, we develop decision fatigue and our brains are no longer able to make meaningful distinctions. We simply go back to that first impression and go with it.

Consistent character: Few of us want to be erratic in our decisions. We like to think of ourselves as dependable and consistent (even though no one ever achieves complete consistency in their actions and thoughts.) Because of this desire for consistency, we tend to dismiss any options that stray from our initial reaction or attraction. At some level, this makes us feel better about our self-image.

How Can We Prevent It?

Experts admit there is not much we can do to avoid predecisional information distortion. However, it can be helpful to simply be aware of its existence and potential influence. Realizing your decision may be skewed by this phenomenon may help weaken its hold.

Psychologists have also acknowledged that this distortion is not always a problem. Many of our choices involve selecting one of several good options. Any of those laptops would have ultimately gotten you online and none of them are likely to set your life on a path of destruction. In the end, it wouldn’t really matter if your bias brought you back to that first computer.

This distortion can also help sort through the mental clutter if we experience information overload. Going with our gut can save us from getting bogged down in too much processing and we’ll likely end up with a decision that’s good enough.

That said, there might be times when it’s important to be objective avoid predecisional information distortion. When this is the case, there are a few things that you can try:

Process of elimination – If we approach a decision scientifically and methodically, we may reduce the effect of predecisional information distortion. Think of it as trying to arrive at a medical diagnosis. Eliminate the possibilities you know are not accurate and continue narrowing them down until you arrive at the best prognosis. Although you may still choose your initial preference, this methodical process may help reduce decision distortion.

Impersonal evaluation – Researchers found when they asked subjects to evaluate items based on a list of characteristics, then told them to choose one, initial bias did not affect choices. Because they did not know ahead of time they would have to choose one, subjects were able to evaluate the options without distortion. It was less personal and more objective.

Don’t Strive for Perfection

No one is ever going to have a perfect track record when it comes to decision making because we’re only human. But we can remain alert for the influence of decision distortion and do our best to avoid any negative influence it may have. At least, that’s our first option, which means we’ll probably go with it.


Image Courtesy of iStock

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