In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision making and
decisionmaking) is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the
selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative
possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice,
which may or may not prompt action.
Decision-making is the process of identifying and choosing
alternatives based on the values, preferences and beliefs of the
2 Problem analysis
2.1 Analysis paralysis
2.2 Information overload
2.3 Post-decision analysis
4.4 Group stages
5 Rational and irrational
6 Cognitive and personal biases
7 Cognitive limitations in groups
8 Cognitive styles
Optimizing vs. satisficing
8.2 Intuitive vs. rational
8.3 Combinatorial vs. positional
8.4 Influence of Myers-Briggs type
10 In adolescents vs. adults
11 See also
Decision-making can be regarded as a problem-solving activity
terminated by a solution deemed to be optimal, or at least
satisfactory. It is therefore a process which can be more or less
rational or irrational and can be based on explicit or tacit knowledge
Human performance has been the subject of active research from several
Psychological: examining individual decisions in the context of a set
of needs, preferences and values the individual has or seeks.
Cognitive: the decision-making process regarded as a continuous
process integrated in the interaction with the environment.
Normative: the analysis of individual decisions concerned with the
logic of decision-making, or communicative rationality, and the
invariant choice it leads to.
A major part of decision-making involves the analysis of a finite set
of alternatives described in terms of evaluative criteria. Then the
task might be to rank these alternatives in terms of how attractive
they are to the decision-maker(s) when all the criteria are considered
simultaneously. Another task might be to find the best alternative or
to determine the relative total priority of each alternative (for
instance, if alternatives represent projects competing for funds) when
all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Solving such problems
is the focus of multiple-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). This area
of decision-making, although very old, has attracted the interest of
many researchers and practitioners and is still highly debated as
there are many MCDA methods which may yield very different results
when they are applied on exactly the same data. This leads to the
formulation of a decision-making paradox.
Logical decision-making is an important part of all science-based
professions, where specialists apply their knowledge in a given area
to make informed decisions. For example, medical decision-making often
involves a diagnosis and the selection of appropriate treatment. But
naturalistic decision-making research shows that in situations with
higher time pressure, higher stakes, or increased ambiguities, experts
may use intuitive decision-making rather than structured approaches.
They may follow a recognition primed decision that fits their
experience and arrive at a course of action without weighing
The decision-maker's environment can play a part in the
decision-making process. For example, environmental complexity is a
factor that influences cognitive function. A complex environment is
an environment with a large number of different possible states which
come and go over time. Studies done at the University of Colorado
have shown that more complex environments correlate with higher
cognitive function, which means that a decision can be influenced by
the location. One experiment measured complexity in a room by the
number of small objects and appliances present; a simple room had less
of those things. Cognitive function was greatly affected by the higher
measure of environmental complexity making it easier to think about
the situation and make a better decision.
Research about decision-making is also published under the label
problem solving, in particular in European psychological research.
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It is important to differentiate between problem analysis and
decision-making. Traditionally, it is argued that problem analysis
must be done first, so that the information gathered in that process
may be used towards decision-making.[page needed]
Characteristics of problem analysis
Problems are merely deviations from performance standards
Problems must be precisely identified and described
Problems are caused by a change from a distinctive feature
Something can always be used to distinguish between what has and
hasn't been affected by a cause
Causes of problems can be deduced from relevant changes found in
analyzing the problem
Most likely cause of a problem is the one that exactly explains all
the facts, while having the fewest (or weakest) assumptions (Occam's
Characteristics of decision-making
Objectives must first be established
Objectives must be classified and placed in order of importance
Alternative actions must be developed
The alternatives must be evaluated against all the objectives
The alternative that is able to achieve all the objectives is the
The tentative decision is evaluated for more possible consequences
The decisive actions are taken, and additional actions are taken to
prevent any adverse consequences from becoming problems and starting
both systems (problem analysis and decision-making) all over again
There are steps that are generally followed that result in a decision
model that can be used to determine an optimal production plan
In a situation featuring conflict, role-playing may be helpful for
predicting decisions to be made by involved parties
Main article: Analysis paralysis
Analysis paralysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a
situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect
paralyzing the outcome.
Main article: Information overload
Information overload is "a gap between the volume of information and
the tools we have to assimilate" it. Information used in decision
making is to reduce or eliminate uncertainty. Excessive
information affects problem processing and tasking, which affects
decision-making. Crystal C. Hall and colleagues described an
"illusion of knowledge", which means that as individuals encounter too
much knowledge it can interfere with their ability to make rational
Evaluation and analysis of past decisions is complementary to
decision-making. See also
Mental accounting and Postmortem
Decision-making techniques can be separated into two broad categories:
group decision-making techniques and individual decision-making
techniques. Individual decision-making techniques can also often be
applied by a group.
Consensus decision-making tries to avoid "winners" and "losers".
Consensus requires that a majority approve a given course of action,
but that the minority agree to go along with the course of action. In
other words, if the minority opposes the course of action, consensus
requires that the course of action be modified to remove objectionable
Majority requires support from more than 50% of the members of the
group. Thus, the bar for action is lower than with consensus.
Plurality, where the largest block in a group decides, even if it
falls short of a majority.
Range voting lets each member score one or more of the available
options. The option with the highest average is chosen. This method
has experimentally been shown to produce the lowest Bayesian regret
among common voting methods, even when voters are strategic.[citation
Delphi method is a structured communication technique for groups,
originally developed for collaborative forecasting but has also been
used for policy making.
Dotmocracy is a facilitation method that relies on the use of special
Dotmocracy Sheets to allow large groups to collectively
brainstorm and recognize agreement on an unlimited number of ideas
they have authored.
Participative decision-making occurs when an authority opens up the
decision-making process to a group of people for a collaborative
Decision engineering uses a visual map of the decision-making process
based on system dynamics and can be automated through a decision
modeling tool, integrating big data, machine learning, and expert
knowledge as appropriate.
Decisional balance sheet: listing the advantages and disadvantages
(benefits and costs, pros and cons) of each option, as suggested by
Plato's Protagoras and by Benjamin Franklin.
Simple prioritization: choosing the alternative with the highest
probability-weighted utility. This may involve considering the
opportunity cost of different alternatives. See also Decision
Satisficing: examining alternatives only until the first acceptable
one is found. The opposite is maximizing or optimizing, in which many
or all alternatives are examined in order to find the best option.
Acquiesce to a person in authority or an "expert"; "just following
Anti-authoritarianism: taking the most opposite action compared to the
advice of mistrusted authorities.
Flipism e.g. flipping a coin, cutting a deck of playing cards, and
other random or coincidence methods – or prayer, tarot cards,
astrology, augurs, revelation, or other forms of divination,
superstition or pseudoscience.
Automated decision support: setting up criteria for automated
Decision support systems: using decision-making software when faced
with highly complex decisions or when considering many stakeholders,
categories, or other factors that affect decisions.
A variety of researchers have formulated similar prescriptive steps
aimed at improving decision-making.
In the 1980s, psychologist Leon Mann and colleagues developed a
decision-making process called GOFER, which they taught to
adolescents, as summarized in the book Teaching Decision Making To
Adolescents. The process was based on extensive earlier research
conducted with psychologist Irving Janis. GOFER is an acronym for
five decision-making steps:
Goals clarification: Survey values and objectives.
Options generation: Consider a wide range of alternative actions.
Facts-finding: Search for information.
Consideration of Effects: Weigh the positive and negative consequences
of the options.
Review and implementation: Plan how to implement the options and
In 2008, Kristina Guo published the DECIDE model of decision-making,
which has six parts:
Define the problem
Establish or Enumerate all the criteria (constraints)
Consider or Collect all the alternatives
Identify the best alternative
Develop and implement a plan of action
Evaluate and monitor the solution and examine feedback when necessary
In 2007, Pam Brown of
Singleton Hospital in Swansea, Wales, divided
the decision-making process into seven steps:
Outline your goal and outcome.
Develop alternatives (i.e., brainstorming).
List pros and cons of each alternative.
Make the decision.
Immediately take action to implement it.
Learn from and reflect on the decision.
In 2009, professor John Pijanowski described how the Arkansas Program,
an ethics curriculum at the University of Arkansas, used eight stages
of moral decision-making based on the work of James Rest::6
Establishing community: Create and nurture the relationships, norms,
and procedures that will influence how problems are understood and
communicated. This stage takes place prior to and during a moral
Perception: Recognize that a problem exists.
Interpretation: Identify competing explanations for the problem, and
evaluate the drivers behind those interpretations.
Judgment: Sift through various possible actions or responses and
determine which is more justifiable.
Motivation: Examine the competing commitments which may distract from
a more moral course of action and then prioritize and commit to moral
values over other personal, institutional or social values.
Action: Follow through with action that supports the more justified
Reflection in action.
Reflection on action.
According to B. Aubrey Fisher, there are four stages or phases that
should be involved in all group decision-making:
Orientation. Members meet for the first time and start to get to know
Conflict. Once group members become familiar with each other,
disputes, little fights and arguments occur. Group members eventually
work it out.
Emergence. The group begins to clear up vague opinions by talking
Reinforcement. Members finally make a decision and provide
justification for it.
It is said that establishing critical norms in a group improves the
quality of decisions, while the majority of opinions (called consensus
norms) do not.
Rational and irrational
In economics, it is thought that if humans are rational and free to
make their own decisions, then they would behave according to rational
Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory says that a person
consistently makes choices that lead to the best situation for himself
or herself, taking into account all available considerations including
costs and benefits; the rationality of these considerations is from
the point of view of the person himself, so a decision is not
irrational just because someone else finds it questionable.
In reality, however, there are some factors that affect
decision-making abilities and cause people to make irrational
decisions – for example, to make contradictory choices when
faced with the same problem framed in two different ways (see also
One of the most prominent theories of decision making is subjective
expected utility (SEU) theory, which describes the rational behavior
of the decision maker. The decision maker assesses different
alternatives by their utilities and the subjective probability of
Rational decision-making is often grounded on experience and theories
exist that are able to put this approach on solid mathematical grounds
so that subjectivity is reduced to a minimum, see e.g. scenario
Cognitive and personal biases
Biases usually affect decision-making processes. Here is a list of
commonly debated biases in judgment and decision-making:
Selective search for evidence (also known as confirmation bias):
People tend to be willing to gather facts that support certain
conclusions but disregard other facts that support different
conclusions. Individuals who are highly defensive in this manner show
significantly greater left prefrontal cortex activity as measured by
EEG than do less defensive individuals.
Premature termination of search for evidence: People tend to accept
the first alternative that looks like it might work.
Cognitive inertia is the unwillingness to change existing thought
patterns in the face of new circumstances.
Selective perception: People actively screen out information that they
do not think is important (see also Prejudice). In one demonstration
of this effect, discounting of arguments with which one disagrees (by
judging them as untrue or irrelevant) was decreased by selective
activation of right prefrontal cortex.
Wishful thinking is a tendency to want to see things in a
certain – usually positive – light, which can distort
perception and thinking.
Choice-supportive bias occurs when people distort their memories of
chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem more
Recency: People tend to place more attention on more recent
information and either ignore or forget more distant information (see
Semantic priming). The opposite effect in the first set of data or
other information is termed primacy effect.[page needed]
Repetition bias is a willingness to believe what one has been told
most often and by the greatest number of different sources.
Anchoring and adjustment: Decisions are unduly influenced by initial
information that shapes our view of subsequent information.
Groupthink is peer pressure to conform to the opinions held by the
Source credibility bias is a tendency to reject a person's statement
on the basis of a bias against the person, organization, or group to
which the person belongs. People preferentially accept statement by
others that they like (see also Prejudice).
Incremental decision-making and escalating commitment: People look at
a decision as a small step in a process, and this tends to perpetuate
a series of similar decisions. This can be contrasted with zero-based
decision-making (see Slippery slope).
Attribution asymmetry: People tend to attribute their own success to
internal factors, including abilities and talents, but explain their
failures in terms of external factors such as bad luck. The reverse
bias is shown when people explain others' success or failure.
Role fulfillment is a tendency to conform to others' decision-making
Underestimating uncertainty and the illusion of control: People tend
to underestimate future uncertainty because of a tendency to believe
they have more control over events than they really do.
Framing bias: This is best avoided by increasing numeracy and
presenting data in several formats (for example, using both absolute
and relative scales).
Sunk-cost fallacy is a specific type of framing effect that affects
decision-making. It involves an individual making a decision about a
current situation based on what they have previously invested in the
situation.:372 An example of this would be an individual that is
refraining from dropping a class that they are most likely to fail,
due to the fact that they feel as though they have done so much work
in the course thus far.
Prospect theory involves the idea that when faced with a
decision-making event, an individual is more likely to take on a risk
when evaluating potential losses, and are more likely to avoid risks
when evaluating potential gains. This can influence one's
decision-making depending if the situation entails a threat, or
Optimism bias is a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive
events occurring in the future and underestimate the likelihood of
negative life events. Such biased expectations are generated and
maintained in the face of counter-evidence through a tendency to
discount undesirable information. An optimism bias can alter risk
perception and decision-making in many domains, ranging from finance
Reference class forecasting
Reference class forecasting was developed to eliminate or reduce
cognitive biases in decision-making.
Cognitive limitations in groups
Group decision-making § Group discussion pitfalls
In groups, people generate decisions through active and complex
processes. One method consists of three steps: initial preferences are
expressed by members; the members of the group then gather and share
information concerning those preferences; finally, the members combine
their views and make a single choice about how to face the problem.
Although these steps are relatively ordinary, judgements are often
distorted by cognitive and motivational biases, include "sins of
commission", "sins of omission", and "sins of
Optimizing vs. satisficing
Main article: Maximization (psychology)
Herbert A. Simon
Herbert A. Simon coined the phrase "bounded rationality" to express
the idea that human decision-making is limited by available
information, available time and the mind's information-processing
ability. Further psychological research has identified individual
differences between two cognitive styles: maximizers try to make an
optimal decision, whereas satisficers simply try to find a solution
that is "good enough". Maximizers tend to take longer making decisions
due to the need to maximize performance across all variables and make
tradeoffs carefully; they also tend to more often regret their
decisions (perhaps because they are more able than satisficers to
recognise that a decision turned out to be sub-optimal).
Intuitive vs. rational
Main article: Dual process theory
The psychologist Daniel Kahneman, adopting terms originally proposed
by the psychologists
Keith Stanovich and Richard West, has theorized
that a person's decision-making is the result of an interplay between
two kinds of cognitive processes: an automatic intuitive system
System 1") and an effortful rational system (called "System
System 1 is a bottom-up, fast, and implicit system of
decision-making, while system 2 is a top-down, slow, and explicit
system of decision-making.
System 1 includes simple heuristics in
judgment and decision-making such as the affect heuristic, the
availability heuristic, the familiarity heuristic, and the
Combinatorial vs. positional
Styles and methods of decision-making were elaborated by Aron
Katsenelinboigen, the founder of predispositioning theory. In his
analysis on styles and methods, Katsenelinboigen referred to the game
of chess, saying that "chess does disclose various methods of
operation, notably the creation of predisposition-methods which may be
applicable to other, more complex systems.":5
Katsenelinboigen states that apart from the methods (reactive and
selective) and sub-methods (randomization, predispositioning,
programming), there are two major styles: positional and
combinational. Both styles are utilized in the game of chess.
According to Katsenelinboigen, the two styles reflect two basic
approaches to uncertainty: deterministic (combinational style) and
indeterministic (positional style). Katsenelinboigen's definition of
the two styles are the following.
The combinational style is characterized by:
a very narrow, clearly defined, primarily material goal; and
a program that links the initial position with the final outcome.
In defining the combinational style in chess, Katsenelinboigen wrote:
"The combinational style features a clearly formulated limited
objective, namely the capture of material (the main constituent
element of a chess position). The objective is implemented via a
well-defined, and in some cases, unique sequence of moves aimed at
reaching the set goal. As a rule, this sequence leaves no options for
the opponent. Finding a combinational objective allows the player to
focus all his energies on efficient execution, that is, the player's
analysis may be limited to the pieces directly partaking in the
combination. This approach is the crux of the combination and the
combinational style of play.:57
The positional style is distinguished by:
a positional goal; and
a formation of semi-complete linkages between the initial step and
"Unlike the combinational player, the positional player is occupied,
first and foremost, with the elaboration of the position that will
allow him to develop in the unknown future. In playing the positional
style, the player must evaluate relational and material parameters as
independent variables. ... The positional style gives the player the
opportunity to develop a position until it becomes pregnant with a
combination. However, the combination is not the final goal of the
positional player – it helps him to achieve the desirable,
keeping in mind a predisposition for the future development. The
pyrrhic victory is the best example of one's inability to think
The positional style serves to:
create a predisposition to the future development of the position;
induce the environment in a certain way;
absorb an unexpected outcome in one's favor; and
avoid the negative aspects of unexpected outcomes.
Influence of Myers-Briggs type
According to Isabel Briggs Myers, a person's decision-making process
depends to a significant degree on their cognitive
style.[page needed] Myers developed a set of four bi-polar
dimensions, called the
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The
terminal points on these dimensions are: thinking and feeling;
extroversion and introversion; judgment and perception; and sensing
and intuition. She claimed that a person's decision-making style
correlates well with how they score on these four dimensions. For
example, someone who scored near the thinking, extroversion, sensing,
and judgment ends of the dimensions would tend to have a logical,
analytical, objective, critical, and empirical decision-making style.
However, some psychologists say that the MBTI lacks reliability and
validity and is poorly constructed.
Other studies suggest that these national or cross-cultural
differences in decision-making exist across entire societies. For
Maris Martinsons has found that American, Japanese and
Chinese business leaders each exhibit a distinctive national style of
Decision-making is a region of intense study in the fields of systems
neuroscience, and cognitive neuroscience. Several brain structures,
including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex
and the overlapping ventromedial prefrontal cortex are believed to be
involved in decision-making processes. A neuroimaging study found
distinctive patterns of neural activation in these regions depending
on whether decisions were made on the basis of perceived personal
volition or following directions from someone else. Patients with
damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex have difficulty making
advantageous decisions.[page needed]
A common laboratory paradigm for studying neural decision-making is
the two-alternative forced choice task (2AFC), in which a subject has
to choose between two alternatives within a certain time. A study of a
two-alternative forced choice task involving rhesus monkeys found that
neurons in the parietal cortex not only represent the formation of a
decision but also signal the degree of certainty (or "confidence")
associated with the decision. Another recent study found that
lesions to the ACC in the macaque resulted in impaired decision-making
in the long run of reinforcement guided tasks suggesting that the ACC
may be involved in evaluating past reinforcement information and
guiding future action. A 2012 study found that rats and humans can
optimally accumulate incoming sensory evidence, to make statistically
Although it is unclear whether the studies generalize to all
processing, subconscious processes have been implicated in the
initiation of conscious volitional movements. See the Neuroscience of
Main article: Emotions in decision-making
Emotion appears able to aid the decision-making process.
Decision-making often occurs in the face of uncertainty about whether
one's choices will lead to benefit or harm (see also Risk). The
somatic marker hypothesis is a neurobiological theory of how decisions
are made in the face of uncertain outcome. This theory holds that
such decisions are aided by emotions, in the form of bodily states,
that are elicited during the deliberation of future consequences and
that mark different options for behavior as being advantageous or
disadvantageous. This process involves an interplay between neural
systems that elicit emotional/bodily states and neural systems that
map these emotional/bodily states. A recent lesion mapping study
of 152 patients with focal brain lesions conducted by Aron K. Barbey
and colleagues provided evidence to help discover the neural
mechanisms of emotional intelligence.
In adolescents vs. adults
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During their adolescent years, teens are known for their high-risk
behaviors and rash decisions. Recent research has
shown that there are differences in cognitive processes between
adolescents and adults during decision-making. Researchers have
concluded that differences in decision-making are not due to a lack of
logic or reasoning, but more due to the immaturity of psychosocial
capacities that influence decision-making. Examples of their
undeveloped capacities which influence decision-making would be
impulse control, emotion regulation, delayed gratification and
resistance to peer pressure. In the past, researchers have thought
that adolescent behavior was simply due to incompetency regarding
decision-making. Currently, researchers have concluded that adults and
adolescents are both competent decision-makers, not just adults.
However, adolescents' competent decision-making skills decrease when
psychosocial capacities become present.
Recent research has shown that risk-taking behaviors
in adolescents may be the product of interactions between the
socioemotional brain network and its cognitive-control network. The
socioemotional part of the brain processes social and emotional
stimuli and has been shown to be important in reward processing. The
cognitive-control network assists in planning and self-regulation.
Both of these sections of the brain change over the course of puberty.
However, the socioemotional network changes quickly and abruptly,
while the cognitive-control network changes more gradually. Because of
this difference in change, the cognitive-control network, which
usually regulates the socioemotional network, struggles to control the
socioemotional network when psychosocial capacities are
When adolescents are exposed to social and emotional stimuli, their
socioemotional network is activated as well as areas of the brain
involved in reward processing. Because teens often gain a sense of
reward from risk-taking behaviors, their repetition becomes ever more
probable due to the reward experienced. In this, the process mirrors
addiction. Teens can become addicted to risky behavior because they
are in a high state of arousal and are rewarded for it not only by
their own internal functions but also by their peers around them.
Adults are generally better able to control their risk-taking because
their cognitive-control system has matured enough to the point where
it can control the socioemotional network, even in the context of high
arousal or when psychosocial capacities are present. Also, adults are
less likely to find themselves in situations that push them to do
risky things. For example, teens are more likely to be around peers
who peer pressure them into doing things, while adults are not as
exposed to this sort of social setting.
A recent study suggests that adolescents have difficulties adequately
adjusting beliefs in response to bad news (such as reading that
smoking poses a greater risk to health than they thought), but do not
differ from adults in their ability to alter beliefs in response to
good news. This creates biased beliefs, which may lead to greater
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Concept driven strategy
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