Decision Making and Action: The Search for a Good Structure
There is a close link between decision making and action. By making a decision, a person commits him/herself to act in a certain way. However, in behavioral decision research the link between decision making and action is largely neglected. The reason may be that decision making primarily is seen as a question of forming preferences--that is, a question of finding the better or best alternative. However, in contrast to decisions, preferences are not necessarily linked to actions. An individual may prefer alternative x to alternative y without committing him/herself to any action. That is, the alternatives in preferences need not be action alternatives (e.g., preferences among articles of consumption), which is always true in a decision situation (e.g., in decisions to buy an article of consumption).
As a consequence of a large number of empirical findings, the presumed synonymity between preferences and decisions or choices has become problematic. First, it has been found that preferences in a nonchoice context may be inconsistent with people's choices ( Lichtenstein & Slovic, 1971; Slovic & Lichtenstein, 1983, Tversky, Sattah, & Slovic, 1988). Second, it has been shown that people's preferences may be practically unrelated to people's actions ( Lindberg, Gärling, & Montgomery, 1990; Montgomery, 1993; Rohrman & Borcherding, 1988). That is, people do not necessarily enact an alternative that they prefer. The reason may be that the preference has been formed without making a decision to enact the preferred alternative.
The research findings cited above emphasize the necessity to distinguish between preferences and decisions. Below, a decision making theory--