the things we say when we realize we’ve made a poor decision. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology, told Shankar Vedantam of Hidden Brain that 15 years of research hasn’t uncovered a way to improve our decision-making skills. Why not?

He cites three weaknesses:

(1) We’re not good at imagining all the details we need to make a good decision: “We’re not great at predicting how much we’ll enjoy an experience in part because we fail to consider all of the details. We think a visit to the dentist will be terrible — but we forget about the free toothbrush, the nice chat with the dental hygienist, and the magazines in the waiting room.”

(2) We don’t consider that we’ll be a different person in the future: Studies show that 18 year olds think they will change little in their next 10 years while 28 year olds report they had changed a lot; this follows for all age groups.

(3) We’re really good at rationalizing our decisions: Once we’ve made a decision, we immediately start justifying the good points of our decision over the drawbacks of our other option, i.e. “this car isn’t sporty but it gets great gas mileage.”

The best advice Professor Gilbert could give on decision making was to ask advice from someone who’d already made that decision. There’s a name for this – surrogation – meaning to find a surrogate, someone who’s made the decision you’re contemplating and ask them for feedback.

But we get into trouble here, too. It seems we’re unlikely to take that advice! Why? Because we think we’re special, we think our experience will be different. Some studies:

(1) Women were offered two approaches to speed dating: (1) get a lot of details about the man or (2) get feedback from a woman who’d actually had a date with him. The best predictor of how the date would go was the advice from the other woman but overwhelmingly women chose the dossier because they preferred to make their own decision and thought their experience would be different.

(2) Would you prefer to make a decision to see a movie based on seeing the trailer or after reading a review? People preferred watching the trailer and making a decision for themselves.

(3) And, speaking from personal experience, Professor Gilbert shared that although Harvard gathers abundant student feedback on all professors and classes, new students preferred to make their decisions after sitting through 15-20 minutes of a prospective class.

These are cautionary tales which I hope will pop into your head the next time you are faced with a decision. Think surrogation. And that surrogate might just be a financial advisor.

Source: Hidden Brain