Should you explain your decisions?

When we make decisions, we often spend time weighing up the pros and cons and thinking through the reasons for our choices. While this can make us feel like we are deciding carefully, findings from psychology studies suggest that this doesn’t always lead to making the best decisions.

Wilson and colleagues carried out an experiment asking students to choose from 5 different posters. One group of participants was asked to explain why they chose the particular poster, and the other to simply pick without providing reasons. The students were then given the poster of their choice to take home, and the researchers followed up at the end of the semester to see how happy they were with the choice they made. They found that the group that provided reasons were less satisfied with their choice and less likely to have put their posters up, than those who made a choice without explanation.

The researchers suggest the reason behind this is that sometimes it is easier to verbalise the benefits of one thing than the other – not because you actually prefer it, but simply because it is easier to explain.

In this case, it was more straightforward for the students to explain why they might like a poster with funny captions rather than a poster with abstract art. Those who didn’t have to explain why it was their preferred choice went with their gut feel without spending too much time reflecting on their reasoning.

While reason and gut feel are both important for making decisions, one needs to be aware that in some situations rationalising can mislead our internal sense which we rely on to make the right choices.

You can read more about the effect of reasons on decision-making on Tom Stafford’s excellent Mind Hacks blog.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.