Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Emotional Decisions are a Good Idea

Last plug for the book "How We Decide". Lots of great research throughout and in the end it boils down to letting your emotions guide decisions that mean a lot to you. Turns out our prefrontal cortex cannot handle too many variables. It's best to let your gut instinct guide you. One of the experiments that Lehrer references illustrates this point well. When students were asked to rate strawberry jam from best to worst, their results were in-line with tasting experts who had done the same. But when asked to re-do the taste test but additionally explain their choices, the results were completely backwards! They started making up reasons that had no bearing on the taste -- like that they preferred a smoother looking texture. Their rational brain interfered with the wisdom of their emotions which are very good at judging preferences. Another good example of where rational decision making falls down is for house buying. People often end up with the bigger house in the burbs because they focus on less important quantifiable facts like square footage rather than future emotions, like the frustration of a longer daily commute.

This was a relief to learn because I find myself questioning my gut instinct and rationalizing too many important decisions. There's nothing wrong with tapping into your intuition. In fact for complex decisions, it's often your best bet.

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