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60-Second Mind

Lingering with a Decision Breeds More Indecision

Researchers have found that time spent deliberating on a decision actually exacerbates the difficulty in making that decision. Christie Nicholson reports

What’s more important, a decision with life-long consequences, like getting married or moving? Or a decision about what to have for lunch? New research finds that we might magnify a seemingly trivial decision’s importance—if we find it difficult and we spend a lot of time making it.

In the study, volunteers chose between two flight options. One group was told the trip was long so it was important they chose the best option. The other group was told the trip was easy, so either option was fine. To manipulate the decision’s difficulty the researchers presented the two options either in a readable type size or in a hard-to-see tiny size.

When deciding about the tough trip, the subjects spent just as long deliberating over the easy to read options as the hard to read options. But for the unimportant decision, participants spent significantly more time with the hard-to-read option. In fact this group spent even more time than either of the groups faced with the important decision.

And this extra time and effort led subjects to believe the decision was important, despite being told it was an easy trip and so an easy decision. The study will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

So time equals difficulty, which then translates into importance, which leads to even more time spent deciding. The researchers call this predicament “decision quicksand.” Speaking of which, I think I’ll have the BLT. Or maybe the chicken salad. Then again, the burger looks good…

—Christie Nicholson

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