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More Information Doesn’t
Ensure Better Decision-Making

People make decisions everyday, but most do not realize all of the factors that may impact their choices. Studies conducted on nonconsequential reasoning and decision-making by a Princeton researcher demonstrate that decisions are not a simple function of information that people evaluate in light of their preferences. How and when information is garnered also plays a significant role in decision-making.

Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir conducted studies involving medical professionals and students. He tested whether the subjects made different decisions when they pursued information than if they had received the same information from the start.

In one scenario, dialysis nurses were asked whether they would donate a kidney to a relative. More of the nurses were willing to donate when they first decided to be tested for compatibility than when they actually knew they were compatible from the start (65 percent vs. 44 percent).

Shafir notes that awareness of cognitive bias may lead to improved decision-making in difficult medical situations. "Most of us go around thinking that the things we choose are the things we prefer. But we rarely think that what we choose could have been exactly the opposite if it was presented to us in another way. With a slight nuance, no matter how irrelevant, it could have gone the other way," says Shafir.

The studies also have implications for better decision-making in every-day life. Imagine a scenario in which a salesman sets up an apparent uncertainty — such as whether a car includes a certain CD player — and then “discovers” that it does. The salesman’s efforts may cause you to infer that this information is pertinent and may put you closer to purchasing the car. If you had known about the CD player from the start, it might not have seemed so significant.

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