Why We Make Bad Decisions – NYTimes.com

Lessons on the psychology of decision-making biases:

We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good. It felt great when I stumbled across information that implied I didn’t need any serious treatment at all. When we find data that supports our hopes we appear to get a dopamine rush similar to the one we get if we eat chocolate, have sex or fall in love. But it’s often information that challenges our existing opinions or wishful desires that yields the greatest insights. I was lucky that my boyfriend alerted me to my most dopamine-drugged moments. The dangerous allure of the information we want to hear is something we need to be more vigilant about, in the medical consulting room and beyond.

via Why We Make Bad Decisions – NYTimes.com.

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13 thoughts on “Why We Make Bad Decisions – NYTimes.com

  1. ryannewell says:

    Interesting article. As an optimist, this resonates with me. It is a lot easier to believe that things will work out for us even when the odds are stacked against us. However, these findings surprise me a little bit. Especially in the medical realm, which this article talks about, I see a lot of people that expect the worse rather than the best. Someone has a stomach ache, it must be appendicitis. You have a sore throat? It is probably strep. You have trouble breathing when walking up the stairs? It for sure is not the fact that you are out of shape, it must be asthma. While I agree with the study results, I think that society is increasingly going in the opposite direction and needs to be a little more optimistic about things as well.

  2. oliviaronna says:

    I really liked this article. I think that it is always interesting when people will just blindly accept things from authority figures. People need to learn to question things more and to find things out for themselves-we definitely learn and grow from these opportunities. I like when the author says, ” But it’s often information that challenges our existing opinions or wishful desires that yields the greatest insights.” I have seen this in my life because these things have caused me to go out and discover what is truth or if what I actually believe is logical. Society definitely is becoming more cynical, and perhaps (as the previous comment-er said), it might not be such a bad idea to have a little more optimism in life.

  3. jbs4395 says:

    I think it’s very easy for us, as part of human nature, to be stubborn and set in our ways and preconceived notions about life and how it all works. What we’ve been raised to believe, or what we have settled on believing often becomes “the truth to end all truths.” But we make mistakes. No one wants to hear that they’ve made a miscalculation or misunderstood something just as they don’t want to hear that the “healthy option” they’ve purchased at McDonalds was filled with even more calories than a Big Mac. We make excuses. We rationalize. These can lead us to make bad decisions. And from the repercussions of those bad decisions, we can make even worse decisions. I think it takes a great deal of humility to accept our imperfections, to question if there is not a better solution than our own, and to greet different ideas with an open mind. I believe this is the key to true negotiation in all aspects of life.

  4. madythorn says:

    This article was a very interesting read. In a way it is kind of common sense. In general, humans are naturally optimistic. It would make sense for someone to give more weight to a decision with an end result that fits our plan or our vision. If our vision is backed by an expert, then we don’t fight it, probably because we want it to be that way. As the author points out, this can be a detrimental step in making decisions. We cannot always blindly trust authority figures, but at the same time, they are experts in their field for a reason. They have worked many many hours, days, and years to have the knowledge that they have, so it leads me to ask the question: why dispute their findings? Optimism and human thought are very powerful things. This article makes me think of experiments that look at a placebo effect. In a way this can be related to making decisions. If we feel really strongly about an issue and believe in it, we may change the outcome, even if only just a little. Society needs optimism and hope, but I agree with the author when we should be careful to not blindly trust any source that claims to be an expert.

  5. I agree with Mady that society needs optimism and hope. There is a lot to be said for the power of optimism in helping sick people become healthy again. A positive outlook and a desire to find information that will add to that outlook are natural characteristics and shouldn’t be forgotten. But if we allow that optimism to blind us from tough realities, then we run the risk of making decisions that will make things even worse. I’m reminded of several instances where parents have decided against medical treatments for their sick children because they believed that God would heal them. In these cases, parents are allowing their optimism and faith to cloud their judgement in ways that sometimes lead to their children’s deaths. We need to be realistic about choices and not rationalize based on what is more convenient for us. This applies not only when it comes to making medical decisions, but in nearly every aspect of our lives.

  6. rgettys says:

    Does this remind anyone of the forum today? George Wills made a powerful argument that presumptuously resonated well with the majority of BYU patrons, I feel like the argument gave a rush to those of a conservative mindset, giving them a rush that a Pulitzer prize winning author was speaking on things that went with a fiscally conservative point of view. Yes the message he gave was about changing society, but not neccesarily about people on this campus changing their point of view in any form and thus induced a triumphant effect ( me included). It would be interesting to see a fiscally liberal Pulitzer prize winning author on campus and discuss their views on the same issues of Mr. Will today and see the response of the audience. It feels to me that the discussion would be more potent among students than what could be produced from today’s speech.

  7. skylodwig says:

    I found this to be an incredibly interesting article, especially broadening it and applying it to things such as politics. We hear bad news all the time when it comes to the government and administration, yet our reaction and the way we process this information, I think, relies heavily on our political affiliation. Let’s use the current Obamacare situation as an example – we all know there have been problems with the setting up of the website and such, that’s not a debatable issue, but what is is how drastic of a problem this is. For Democrats, yes it’s a problem but it’s a minor setback to reach a greater goal, a greater goal; Republicans view this as just more proof that Obamacare never should have been setup in the first place. One set of information, but two different reactions based on what the political attachment was. I think it is evident in the political realm that specific information needs to processed more carefully, rather than choose to be for or against something solely based on what the political affiliation of the issue is. Having a sense of optimism when it comes to your political party isn’t a negative thing, but blind optimism and allegiance can have damaging effects no matter what the issue, so I think it’s important to take all information, good and bad, with a grain of salt and always be questioning the source.

  8. Questioning in decision making is always crucial. As the author points out, we must not only question experts but question ourselves as well. This is because we absorb information with a bias, and “we generally focus on things that agree with the outcome we want.” In decision making, I would also argue that we also show bias on the information that we disclose. If you go to a doctor and only tell them half of your symptoms because you’d rather have a fever than the flu, you will be misdiagnosed.
    I also like this article because it points out that being an expert does not in any way mean you are automatically correct. Often two specialized experts in the same region of study will make opposite claims, professing to be in the right! It is important to have a sound, logical mind while making decisions, and for large decisions that involve experts, it is important to get more than one opinion.

  9. natmyrrha says:

    Great article! We are constantly searching for opinions that agree with the outcome we’re looking for. People feel safer having experts on their side. However, experts are often times wrong. So instead of trying to find one single correct answer we should be looking for the many facets of a situations. When we are exposed to different points of view we are more ready to acknowledge other outcomes. Another important thing is recognizing our bias. As said by the author: “Mindfully acknowledging our feelings serves as an “emotional thermostat” that recalibrates our decision making. It’s not that we can’t be anxious, it’s that we need to acknowledge to ourselves that we are.”

  10. mckaycorbett says:

    I liked this article. I have been trying to be more negative a bit more negative in my life to try to get better results in whatever it may be. For example with my grades. I have found that if I am complacent with my grades and I say to myself oh I think that is enough I can just turn it in and that will be good I end up doing worse than what I thought I was going to do. Also we seem to feel more comfortable when we find out that someone else didn’t do as well as us or that someone else didn’t turn the paper in on time either. I have found that if we are more willing to look at our own flaws and try to fix them instead of focusing on only our strengths we will become much better. It’s the same thing when it comes to politics. People who only look at one side of the situation end up making themselves look pretty dumb sometimes. But those who work to see a situation from many different angles usually end up making a pretty good opinion. I feel that if more people would do this the world would be a much better place. It seems that the biggest thing in the way of this happening is pride.

  11. dbaker24 says:

    I found this article to be extremely interesting because I often find myself in similar situations. In my personal experience I have found that people in general are stubborn. We as humans do not like change, and we do not enjoy processing new information that contradicts information we have already accepted or puts down our own ideas and opinions. That being said, it would do everyone good if we became more attuned to accepting new ideas and opinions. Too often we are caught up in our traditional ways, expanding our vision can only better ourselves as more informed members of humanity.

  12. alexechu1 says:

    I am a strong proponent of the views in this article. I believe that life is “90% attitude and 10% circumstance” and that our views, feelings, and attitude towards a particular decision or event can affect greatly how it impacts us and even how we impact it. One thing that I agree with is that we are often very emotional decision makers. In economics there is a principle called “ignoring sunk costs”; that is, when making a decision, only the future consequences of that decision should be considered, and never the investments that have already been made in a decision. Often poor decisions are made are that are emotionally influenced, which does not always yield sound reasoning.

  13. taylorking2 says:

    I’ve seen this in my own life. When I hear something that isn’t what I wanted, I ignore it. What we need in our nation is leaders that are willing to be realistic and look at what is happening, even if it’s not what they wanted to hear.

    Doesn’t it feel great when what you want to hear is what you end up hearing, and it’s not a lie?

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