30, 2002: Faculty
isn't always better when it comes to making a decision
professor of psychology, finds that information alone isn't always
make decisions everyday. But many do not realize all of the factors
that may impact their decisions.
Studies on nonconsequential
reasoning and decision-making that psychology and Woodrow Wilson
School professor Eldar Shafir has been working on for several years
demonstrate that preference or information alone do not influence
decisions. How and when information is garnered also plays a role
in decision making.
that involved medical professionals and students tested whether
the subjects made different decisions when they pursued information
than if they had received the same information from the start.
In one scenario, dialysis
nurses were asked whether they would donate a kidney to a relative.
More of the nurses were willing to donate when they first decided
to be tested for compatibility than when they knew they were suitable
from the start (65 percent vs. 44 percent).
As Shafir and his studies
with medical professionals point out, "the pursuit of information
can increase its salience and cause clinicians to assign more importance
to the information than if the same information was immediately
available. An awareness of this cognitive bias may lead to improved
decision-making in difficult medical situations."
These situations flow
through a person's every-day decision-making as well. Take a trip
to the car dealer, for instance. A salesman can set up an apparent
uncertainty such as whether a car includes an attractive
CD player only to come back and resolve it with the excellent
news that it does. His efforts may cause you to infer that this
information is pertinent to the decision and may put you closer
to driving away with a new car.
"Most of us go
around thinking that the things we choose, the things we acquire
from others, are the things we prefer. But we rarely think that
what we choose could have been exactly the opposite if it was presented
to us in another way. With a slight nuance, no matter how irrelevant,
it could have gone the other way," says Shafir, who is teaching
a freshman seminar this year, Decision-Making in the Context of
Poverty, which applies some of his findings to people who are poor
and their decisions.
Students examine the
contrast between normative assumptions of rationality and the psychological
mechanisms that guide behavior and produce systematic bias, particularly
in the context of poverty.