Making Decisions That Matter: How People Face Important Life Choices

Making Decisions That Matter: How People Face Important Life Choices

Making Decisions That Matter: How People Face Important Life Choices

Making Decisions That Matter: How People Face Important Life Choices


The volume begins by covering four basic phases of decision making: setting or clarifying goals, gathering information, structuring the decision, and making a final choice. Comprehensive reviews of existing literature on each of these topics is provided. Next, the author examines differences in decision making as a function of several factors not typically discussed in the literature: the type of decision being made (e.g., legal, medical, moral) and the existence of individual differences in the decision maker (developmental differences, individual differences in style or temperament, differences as a function of expertise). The author then examines the topic of group decision making, contrasting it with individual decision making. The volume concludes with some observations and suggestions for improving peoples' everyday decision making. This book is intended for use as a core textbook or supplement for courses in psychology, education, or allied disciplines. It will also be an invaluable resource for people who work with people making decisions in various applied settings, such as schools, universities, and health care centers.


My PhD dissertation was on individual differences in syllogistic reasoning—the ways in which different people take premises such as “All astronomy books are large books” and “Some large books are red books” and try to see if any conclusion necessarily follows from them (e.g., “Some astronomy books are red books. ”). To say that a conclusion necessarily follows from premises is to say that it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false. (By the way, the example conclusion I provided does not necessarily follow from the premises I stated—even though most casual readers think that it does).

When you research peoples' syllogistic reasoning, it is easy to obtain statistically significant results. Change the wording, or change the order of terms, and you make a problem harder or easier. Another thing about studying syllogisms is that there are lots of practice effects, and a few shortcut tricks to solving them, so that with just a little practice, you can solve them much more rapidly than your research participants or students, which makes you look relatively gifted intellectually.

At my first job interview, an undergraduate student asked me what I thought syllogistic reasoning had to do with everyday reasoning and decision making—in other words, why it mattered. Cognitive psychologists have a standard, canned, and slightly superior response to this sort of question—we answer as follows: “So, basically you are saying that syllogisms are irrelevant to real life, right?” (Student nods). “And implicitly, you are saying that psychologists should only study relevant topics, am I correct?” (Student nods again). “Okay, then it follows, doesn't it, that psychologists should not study syllogisms. ” (Student, growing wary, nods a third time). “But ha ha—don't you see that that conclusion is reached through syllogistic reasoning?!” (Asked triumphantly. Student shrinks into seat, looks embarrassed. Psychologist wins.)

So, of course, I used this time-tested maneuver and finished the talk. But the question still haunted me. Just because the conclusion followed from the premises didn't mean that the student used syllogistic reasoning to arrive at it.

Since that time, I've been interested in the question of how well laboratoryderived models of reasoning and decision making apply to, and explain, real-world reasoning and decision making. It has seemed to me that we cannot take for . . .

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