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Why ‘gut feelings’ don’t always lead to good decisions

Why ‘gut feelings’ don’t always lead to good decisions

New research shows that it may not always pay to listen to our gut when making a big decision.

Why ‘gut feelings’ don’t always lead to good decisions

This extraordinary time has certainly changed the way we live; geographically, economically, mentally and socially. We’ve seen the pandemic bring out the worst and best in people, the hoarders and the selfless frontline workers, the people who leave meals for friends who are doing it tough, and those who turn a blind eye to anything that resembles generosity and compassion.

It’s also a time when we are forced to make many challenging decisions in response to this new reality, decision that may be difficult to make. According to new research from Ohio State University when faced with a decision, people may know which choice gives them the best chance of success, but still take the other option.

People may choose based on a ‘gut feeling’, a habit, or what worked for them last time, rather than on what they have learned will work most often said Ian Krajbich, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology and economics at The Ohio State University. “In our study, people knew what worked most often. They just didn’t use that knowledge,” Krajbich said. The research, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, was led by Arkady Konovalov, a former graduate student at Ohio State who is now at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

“There’s this tension between doing what you should do, at least from a statistical perspective, versus doing what worked out well recently,” Krajbich said. The reason we don’t always make the decision that gives us the best chance of success, Krajibich believes, is because it takes a lot of mental energy and planning to always make decisions based on your knowledge, and the rewards of following the best strategy aren’t always obvious – especially if following the strategy that only increases your success by a small percentage.

“It can be hard to judge whether you made a good or bad decision based just on the outcome. We can make a good decision and just get unlucky and have a bad outcome. Or we can make a bad decision and get lucky and have a good outcome,” Krajbich said. But the lesson from this study, Krajbich said, is that people often do learn what works best. “They just have to put that knowledge into practice.”

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