On Making Choices

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For more information, check out our privacy policy. Choice is our ability to make decisions when presented with two or more options. The psychology of choice explores why we subconsciously make the decisions we do, what motivates those decisions, and what needs these decisions are meant to satisfy. I don't know about you, but I get stressed when someone asks me what I want for lunch.


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Food delivery apps give us hundreds of restaurants willing to bring our meals right to our door. Entertainment apps give us thousands of movie titles to choose from on a Friday night. Choice is the purest expression of free will -- the freedom to choose allows us to shape our lives exactly how we wish provided we have the resources to do so. But choice is difficult because it also represents sacrifice.


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So, here's an easy-to-understand guide to choice. It will help you understand the roles of bias, priming, and other psychological quirks in decision-making. Not only will you be able to make better decisions yourself, but you'll also gain valuable selling and positioning tips that will make your audience more likely to choose the offering you're selling.

What is choice, exactly? In its simplest form, choice is the ability to make a decision when you have two or more possibilities. But the theories and mental models about choice go further than that. Here are two of the most common theories on choice:. Choice theory is the study of how decisions get made. The term was coined in a book of the same name by William Glasser , who argued that all choices are made to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The idea humans primarily make choices that further our own interests is not a new one, and it's seconded by the rational choice theory.

Rational choice theory is a framework used to model social and economic behavior. According to rational choice theory, individual actors choose whichever option will maximize their interests and provide them with the greatest utility, or benefit. Underlying these three basic ways of thinking about choice is the assumption we truly understand our preferences and how to weigh them against each other. But what happens when freedom conflicts with power?

The Choice is Yours

How do you choose when two options will provide you with equal amounts of fun? Another definition. Iyengar decided to conduct a study with the two colors, asking women to choose which shade they preferred. Some biases are conscious. For example, I prefer dogs over cats -- I think dogs are friendlier, more lovable, and less likely to scratch me. Implicit bias is everywhere, and it affects the way we act and treat other people -- sometimes to alarming results. This unconscious form of association is a large part of how the human brain trains our memories.

For instance, Aronson and Steele also found that African-American students who filled out demographic information prior to a test performed more poorly than African-American students who did not. Merely priming students with their group identities was enough to surface societal stereotypes that unconsciously affected performance. In , Frederic Brochet conducted a study with 54 participating oenology undergraduates.

He asked the students to rate two bottles of red wine, telling them only that one was expensive and one was cheap. In reality, Brochet had filled both bottles with the same cheap wine.

How we make decisions depends on how uncertain we are

Similarly, in a Dutch study, subjects watched what they were told was a high-definition program in a room with posters touting high-definition images. After the program, they reported their experience was superior to standard-definition programming. Here are four cognitive biases that unconsciously affect how we make decisions. The manner in which choices are presented to us also affects how we view them.

They guessed that the cars were going 31, 34, 38, 39, and 41 miles per hour, respectively.


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  7. Also known as the bandwagon effect , ingroup bias occurs when a person in a group acts in a similar way to other members of that group. Interestingly, the bias exists across arbitrarily created groups such as through a coin toss in addition to groups based around religion or sports, among other affiliations. In a study conducted by Daniel Kahneman, participants were given mugs, chocolate, or nothing, and given the option to either trade their wares, or choose one of the two items if they had started with nothing. This bias draws on humanity's innate aversion to risk.

    Let's say you have two music choices.

    5 Reminders for Making the Right Choices in Life

    You could listen to an album you've heard before and enjoyed or one you've never listened to. While the section option could turn out to be your new favorite album, it could also be an assault on your ears. The ambiguity effect is what would make many of us choice the first, more familiar option. Three months ago, I packed up all my things and moved out of the city I've lived in for 23 years to work at HubSpot, a company whose existence I'd only recently discovered.

    Why Making Choices Matters

    Choosing the wrong kind of a cheese is a smaller and less costly mistake than choosing the wrong job. And yet the decision to move and change jobs felt far, far easier than my cheese selection. A supermarket has an average of 42, different SKUs. Iyengar set up a tasting booth outside the store. But the patrons who stopped at the six-variety booth were six times more likely to buy jam than the patrons who stopped at the variety booth. An interesting example comes from a study by Jonathan Levav and Shai Danziger. As you make more decisions throughout the day, your reserve of willpower eventually becomes depleted.

    A little confusing? Determinism is the doctrine that, in its absolute form, all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. All has been pre-determined. Freedom, on the other hand, if absolute, means just what you think it does: the ability to choose among different alternatives unfettered by other considerations and restraints. Nothing has been pre-determined.

    source site So are the determinists right that all is pre-determined? Probably not, although we have to admit that decisions are usually influenced by outside factors.

    Struggling to make the right choice? Here's what to do!

    Similarly, absolute freedom is rare — constraint, in some form or another, is the norm. Effective decision making can only flow from a place of choice. You must make a conscious effort to free yourself from fear and perceived limitations to get there. You must open your mind to all possibilities, without feeling restricted. When you are there, nothing seems like an insurmountable problem. Instead, there are only opportunities for growth and discovery. Nothing can stop you. The place of choice is the crossroads between feeling fulfilled and aligning with your own values.

    Only after you have identified the place of choice can you move on to the point of decision, which is where you finally consider all options and decide what to do. With your remote, you have the freedom to choose from an endless list of shows and channels. You could choose a simple sitcom, a TED talk on physics, or a golf tournament. You are at the place of choice. Your decisions are influenced by a myriad of factors, both external and internal, such as habit, culture, education, goals, etc.

    However, if you want to be able to participate in office small talk the next day, you should probably choose a program you know your co-workers will be talking about. We just automatically do it.