Some Advice on Decision Making: Choose Wisely

Advice on decision making choose wisely

A foundational example of decision-making from a critical piece of literature:

Bridgekeeper: Stop. What… is your name?
Galahad: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your quest?
Galahad: I seek the Grail.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your favourite colour?
Galahad: Blue. No, yel…AAAAAAAAAAAUUUGH!!!!
(for those of you who really don’t get this, check outMonty Python and the Holy Grail…and let’s just say Iheap scorn in your general direction…)

Decision-making can be tricky and if it is done well, can get you thrown over the edge of a chasm. It’s something we do every day and often at the request of others….and often without a lot of thought. What’s even more astounding is there are a host of things that affect our decision-making that we’re not even aware of. The following in no way represents a complete list of the ways we can ‘hose-up’ choosing what socks to put on in the morning or whether we take out a loan to buy those Buffalo Gold Piece tribute coins.

Cognitive bias

In last month’s newsletter I discussed the concept of framing, or cognitive bias. By which our thoughts, feelings, or decisions can be impacted by how information is presented. Framing, however, isn’t the only cognitive bias that can affect how we decide things. Here are a couple of others:

Availability heuristic

This is a shortcut we use in assigning more relevance to things we can immediately recall. For example, do you believe more people in the US die by shark attacks or being crushed by vending machines? Most people would probably choose shark attacks although statistics actually support the latter. This is because we can easily recall a number of news reports (and movies) of people being eaten by sharks; not as much with vending machines. Therefore, we overestimate probabilities and this affects balanced decision-making.

Confirmation bias

This is the tendency to find and remember evidence that is consistent with what we believe. This is akin to the cop who thinks someone is guilty and only talks to people who have a grudge against the suspect. Although this might sound extreme, it can (and does) occur with everyone; even people we most expect to make sound decisions.  For example, the scientific method and its various techniques (such as the double-blind procedure) were developed to help prevent researchers from interpreting results in a way that suited their hypotheses. As it turns out; scientists are human too.

Physiological states

This is the tendency to find and remember evidence that isGood decision making can also depend on what’s going on with our bodies. Think you can power through life without taking care of your temple? Think again.


Most of us have likely experienced sleep deprivation. Maybe you’ve fooled yourself into thinking all this really affects is your general crankiness and reaction time with your ping-pong game. Dr. Michael Chee, and fellow researchers, discovered; however, a single night of sleep deprivation resulted in riskier decision-making. They actually found sleep-deprived people had greater brain activity in the areas associated with optimism and reduced brain activity in the areas that calculate negative consequences.  In other words, when we’re tired, we overestimate our chances of winning – something that Las Vegas has long cashed in on.


Another physical state that oddly appears to affect decision-making is the fullness of our bladder. Dr. Mirjam Tuk, and associates, found people who need to pee, exhibited greater impulse control. Apparently, the self-control we need to exercise “spills over” (she said it, not me) into unrelated areas.

Physical surroundings

One last area we need to consider is our environment. Are you trying to get the spouse to agree to your trip to DEF CON? Try the following:

  • Temperature
    Would you be more likely to trust someone who is “warm” or “cold” ? Research has repeatedly shown this to be much more literal than just a descriptor of personality. Physical warmth tends to increase our trust in others as well as affect altruistic behavior. Don’t overdo it, though; when making a request.  Keep in mind, extreme temperatures are associated with increased hostility and aggressive behavior.
  • Lighting
    In addition to a warm and cozy room, try some mood lighting. Bright lights appear to intensify both positive and negative emotions.  If you anticipate your spouse will be very happy to entertain your request to go to Las Vegas, install those high beams. If not, perhaps using the dimmer is the way to go.

What can we do?

At this point, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed about your decision-making, much less affecting the decisions of others as a social engineer. My response to you:this is an appropriate reaction! This is a vastly simplified article that scratches only the surface of the topic. The thing you should be encouraged about; however, is this:;most people are simply not very aware of their decision-making process. It’s something that the majority of folks feel pretty confident about even when they shouldn’t. I would argue, if you can be just a little bit ahead in your knowledge base and controlling the situational aspects you can, this places you well ahead of most.

And as always, I urge you to constantly educate yourself. There is a ton of great research being conducted in this area. Along with psychology, this research has a number of applications in economics and leadership. So, until next month, read more and keep your bladder full.

Written by Michele Fincher