Marianas Variety

Last updateTue, 18 Jun 2019 12am







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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | I had a feeling about you

WITH easy access to unlimited information such as the media and global internet provide, you would assume that human decision making would improve over time.  We take in more information before making decisions, therefore our decisions must be better.  That would make sense.  It would also be wrong.

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago proves that, as the title of their paper says, “people use less information than they think to make up their minds.”  What did the researchers do and how did they reach their conclusions?  And how is this useful to you and me?

Nadav Klein and Ed O’Brien, the principal researchers in the study, found that people readily categorize things as good or bad, desirable or undesirable, even to marry or not to marry, with great immediacy.  They compared how much information we think we use to how much we actually use to make decisions, even regarding important, life-altering matters.  Let’s look at the  categories that made up their research.

In study 1, participants were shown samples of a style of art and asked how many samples they thought they would have to see before they judged the art “good” or “bad.”  Even though they expected to view perhaps five or ten samples, they actually formed a good or bad impression of the style after just two or three samples. 

In study 2, participants judged whether or not they liked a new fruit juice.  Again, participants guessed they would form an opinion of the juice after a large number of drinks but in reality they either liked or disliked the juice after one or two.

In study 4, participants were asked about falling love.  Researchers asked single people how long they thought it would take to reach the conclusion to “marry” or “don’t marry” a person.  They asked married people how long it actually took for them to come to the conclusion to marry their spouse.  Single people supposed that it would take a much longer, many months or years, than the married people did.  In most cases, married people made up their minds within a few months or in some cases, weeks.

Skipping to study 6, participants were asked to guess the outcomes of real political elections based solely on photographs of the candidates.  Their predictive powers were extremely accurate.

What conclusions can we draw from this research?  Even though we have vast amounts of information at our disposal, we use very little of it when actually forming opinions or making decisions.  We may think a long dating period will give us a better chance to choose a mate, but actually we make that decision early in the process.  The rest is just a game. 

When it comes to voting behavior, we base our opinions of candidates on looks more than anything else.  Do they look competent?  Do they look honest and trustworthy?  Very few of us do research to make informed decisions.  When was the last time you studied a candidate’s voting record or past legislative successes before deciding to vote for him or her?  During the 2016 presidential campaign I asked students if they had read any of the books written by the candidates.  Not one person raised their hand.

Has today’s glut of information resulted in better decision making?  What does the current divorce rate, or quality of political leadership tell you?  In the age of the information superhighway it turns out we make our decisions based on the same amount of information available to cave men. 

 BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.