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
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,"
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.