How People Make Decisions

All people make decisions and often have strong opinions about areas they are far from experts about.

Many from both the political left and right who express strong opinions for or against critical race theory don’t understand what it is. People make decisions about vaccines and climate change without being scientists, much less immunologists or climatologists.

University of Oxford research scientist Catarina Amorim says that it’s not just people within the religious right who don’t understand what is the theory of evolution. She says that many people within the left who say they “believe in evolution” also have significant misconceptions about it.

Psychologist and economics Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, of Princeton, and psychologist Amos Tversky, of Stanford, studied how humans have a slow, logical method and a quick intuitive-emotional method for making decisions. (McDonald 2019)

Most decisions, including many that we think are come to logically. are made with the unconscious intuitive-emotional method that is riddled with mistakes and cognitive biases.  

Behavior psychologist Susan Weinschenk writes, “By looking at brain activity while making a decision, researchers could predict what choice people would make 7-10 seconds before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision. This means that even when people think they are making a conscious, logical, decision, chances are that they aren’t aware that they’ve already made a decision and that it was unconscious. We aren’t even aware of our own process.” (Weinschenk 2019) (Hamza 2021)

Emotions and intuition are important part of decision-making. However, they are fallible and lead to misperceptions and illusions. As advertising, the media and politics show us, humans are regularly tricked and manipulated by these unconcious heuristics. Propaganda and disinformation play on our expectations and confirmation biases.

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The Brain Makes Up a False Cover Story for our decisions

Further, the slow, logical method will then often come up with a false cover story, giving logical but false reasons why one made the decisions. We think we have gone through a local thought process when we have not.

Kahneman said, “If we think that we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake. Our beliefs and our wishes and our hopes are not always anchored in reasons.”

Weinshensk writes, “What people tell you is the reason for why they do what they do may not be the actual reason.”

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The key is not to try to get rid of the emotional, intuitive reactions. Not only can they not be escaped, but they are important. We couldn’t function without them.

The key is to realize this is the process, that our choices are not as objective or reasoned as we think they are, and that we fool ourselcwa. We must second guess or double-check or decisions.

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References

Hamza A (2021), “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain”, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352737654_Article_Review_Unconscious_determinants_of_free_decisions_in_the_human_brain

McDonald T (2014), “How do we really make decisions?”, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26258662

Weinschenk S (2019), “How people Make Decision”, https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2019/02/human-decision-making