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Chapter: Psychology: Thinking

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Decision Making: An Overview

To a large extent, our lives are defined by the choices we make—where (or whether) to go to school, what jobs to pursue, whether to pursue that crush on Aisha, and more.

Decision Making: An Overview

To a large extent, our lives are defined by the choices we make—where (or whether) to go to school, what jobs to pursue, whether to pursue that crush on Aisha, and more. It’s disheartening, therefore, that we can easily find flaws in human decisions. Thanks to framing effects, people sometimes flip-flop in their preferences. Because of poor affective forecasting, people often choose options that ultimately will not bring them pleasure. People also desire lots of flexibility in their choices—and so they shop in stores that have a better selection, and they hesitate to make purchases that are nonrefundable. It seems, though, that people would be better advised to sat-isfice: With fewer choices, they’d have an easier time choosing and end up happierwith the outcome!

In light of these points, some authors have suggested that our decision making is often irrational—guided by the wrong factors (such as the decision frame, or the pres-ence of other choices that don’t really interest us but that nonetheless distract us from more desirable options; e.g., Ariely, 2008). Another researcher has argued that the pat-tern of our decision making actually makes it difficult for us to achieve happy outcomes. If we want to do more than just “stumble” toward happiness, he claims, we need some other sort of decision-making process—one that gives considerable control over our decisions to outsiders, much like trusting your choice of a new car to Consumer Reports (D. Gilbert, 2006).

A different perspective, however, is to put less emphasis on the outcome of our deci-sions and more weight on the process. Perhaps the goal of human decision making is for each of us to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel that our choices have been reasonable. On this basis, our decisions may sometimes not move us toward the best possible outcome, but in most cases our choices will at least be satisfactory—and, above all, we will each feel that our choices have been sensible and justified.

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