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Positive decisions a result of training

People are not born with good decision making skills, but can be trained to make sound choices, avers study.

india Updated: May 19, 2007 16:47 IST

A recent research has found that people are not born with good decision making skills, but can be trained to make sound choices.

The study, conducted by decision scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the RAND Corp, has found that people who excel in a series of decision-making tasks concerning hypothetical situations are likely to have more positive decision outcomes in their lives.

The study, which is being published in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and will be presented on May 25 at the Association for Psychological Science’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., also proposes that an improved quality of life is possible if people are taught better decision-making skills.

The study marks a significant advance for decision science, because it shows that tasks developed to study decision-making mistakes in psychological labs can be used to determine decision-making ability in real life.

The study also shows that, although decision-making competence is correlated with verbal and non-verbal intelligence, it is still a separate skill.

“Intelligence doesn’t explain everything. Our results suggest that people with good decision-making skills obtain better real-life outcomes, even after controlling for cognitive ability, socio-economic status and other factors. That is good news, because decision-making skills may be taught,” said Wändi Bruine de Bruin, a researcher in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the study.

The study recruited 360 people with varied backgrounds and each participant finished seven tasks measuring “Adult Decision-Making Competence,” or their ability to shun general decision-making slip-ups.

For example, a good decision-maker should be able to make choices independent of how information is presented or framed. Imagine that you are learning about a type of medication that is 99 per cent effective, for instance.

You should be equally likely to use it if it is described as 1 per cent ineffective.

Study participants also completed a survey with questions about handy life experiences that might mirror poor decision-making.

They were asked, among other things, whether they had ever spent a night in jail; been unfaithful to a romantic partner; bounced a check; been arrested for driving under the influence; had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than a year; and been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

As it turned out, those who reported the maximum number of negative controllable life experiences performed the worst on the decision-making tasks.

The authors warned that this study does not definitively establish that good decision-making skills lead to better life outcomes.

The track of causality has not yet been examined. It could be that the pressure of difficult life experiences corrodes decision-making skills.

Further research could look at whether a person’s life experiences get better after they have received decision-making training.