To decide or not to decide… – Peter

Making decisions is exhausting and we’re not very good at doing it for long periods of time.  Great article from the NYT about how our self-control depletes after thinking too hard, this is even true in dogs who have been forced to sit / stay for 10 minutes.  What happens when we are mentally tired is that we either avoid making decisions or go with the status quo. When shoppig the status quo could mean always buying the cheapest, our usual brand or just opting for the ‘traditional’ flavour variety.  We’re doing work in labs at the moment to see how BE baises like this impacts the decisions we make, specficially for pack tests.

“Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension, like price: just give me the cheapest. Or you indulge yourself by looking at quality: I want the very best (an especially easy strategy if someone else is paying). Decision fatigue leaves you vulnerable to marketers who know how to time their sales, as Jonathan Levav, the Stanford professor, demonstrated in experiments involving tailored suits and new cars.

The idea for these experiments also happened to come in the preparations for a wedding, a ritual that seems to be the decision-fatigue equivalent of Hell Week. At his fiancée’s suggestion, Levav visited a tailor to have a bespoke suit made and began going through the choices of fabric, type of lining and style of buttons, lapels, cuffs and so forth.

“By the time I got through the third pile of fabric swatches, I wanted to kill myself,” Levav recalls. “I couldn’t tell the choices apart anymore. After a while my only response to the tailor became ‘What do you recommend?’ I just couldn’t take it.””

PS: I completely empathise with the buying a suit for a wedding!  You have to make (and unmake) so many decisions in a short period of time it’s exhausting, the actual suit material / lining / tubing /cut / no of buttons etc you end up with has as much to do with the one you’re considering when your patience runs out as the one you like the most.


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