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How to make a decision

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On a daily basis, we make so many decisions quickly and sometimes unconsciously. We form actions and construct mental processes that are influenced by reasoning, bias, emotions, past experiences, and memories. Hence, this leads us to really think if we even have a concept of free-will anymore. Decision Making, however, is the process of choosing between two or more alternatives. Individuals make choices based on their personal preferences, values, and goals.

Every decision has an outcome and involves risk. For example, when deciding which college or university to attend, a student must weigh the costs and benefits of each school and come to a decision that maximizes his benefits and minimizes his costs, compared to other choices. Decision making refers to the mental activities that take place in choosing among alternatives. In psychology, decision making is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities.

Every decision-making process produces a final choice, which may or may not prompt action. Decision-making is the process of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values, preferences, and beliefs of the decision-maker. Humans have devised many different ways of making decisions because the situations in which we make them are so incredibly diverse. The process you use to decide what to wear when going to yoga and getting a coffee is totally different than what you use to decide whether or not to accept a marriage proposal. These mechanisms include a range of simplifying and confidence-sustaining mental shortcuts (heuristics) that help us to make quick decisions when pausing to undertake a full analysis would be unwise. While these ways of thinking are not the same as rigorous logic or formally rational reasoning, they are well suited to fast-paced intuitive judgments and actions. However, these evolved modes of thinking also create some major traps. Researchers in one human-based study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track brain activity in the lead up to a decision by gradually revealing a photograph. Before the participants recognized the image—before the decision was made about what the picture showed—a network of brain activity registered across the brain.

Yet, parts of the brain remained at lower-level activity until the very moment of recognition, at which point activity spiked and the regions lit up on the scans. The researchers concluded such findings begin to outline a hierarchy of neural pathways at play in decision-making in which the “eureka” moment is tracked in specific parts of the brain. The framing effect is an example of cognitive bias, in which people react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it is presented; e.g. as a loss or as again. People tend to avoid risk when a positive frame is presented but seek risks when a negative frame is presented. Gain and loss are defined in the scenario as descriptions of outcomes. Prospect theory shows that a loss is more significant than the equivalent gain, that a sure gain (certainty effect and pseudo-certainty effect) is favored over a probabilistic gain, and that a probabilistic loss is preferred to a definite loss.

One of the dangers of framing effects is that people are often provided with options within the context of only one of the two frames. Past research provides conflicting evidence for the role of value in the appearance of framing effects. In a research by Bloomfield (2006), the effects of frame and group size were examined using scenarios about less valuable and more valuable groups (animal vs. human). In addition, two picture manipulations, intended to increase the value of the group, were presented. Choice patterns differed for the human and animal groups, with participants exhibiting greater risk-seeking overall for the human scenario and showing a framing effect for humans but not animals when no pictures were presented.

A small group size increased the proportion of risky choices for both the animal and human scenarios. Presenting pictures with names did lead to framing effects for animals, but providing pictures or pictures and names eliminated framing effects for the human scenario. These findings suggest that the relationship between value and framing effects.

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