Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday: Choosing Between Spinach and Broccoli

By Cernig

Newshogger researcher Kat writes that she ran across an interesting scientific article on the psychology of decision-making - DiscoveryChannel.ca - A scientist's guide to 'Super Tuesday'

"The article doesn't phrase it this way, but one part of it explains why our frequent forced-choice between least-worst candidates (though hopefully not this year) tends to result in fewer and fewer people bothering to vote," says Kat.
"If both the alternatives are attractive, then both provide reasons to choose," explain Anish Nagpal of the University of Melbourne and Parthasarathy Krishnamurthy of the University of Houston. "If both the alternatives are unattractive, neither one provides reasons to choose."

Put more simply, there is no incentive to make a choice between two options to which you see no perceived benefit. (Say, having to choose between spinach and broccoli when you really want a triple-fudge brownie sundae.)

But the study also emphasizes that if a choice is difficult, it might not be the options that are causing the indecisiveness, but rather, the way in which the decision is framed. (Of the two vegetables, which do I like least?)

Previous research has indicated that asking people to actively choose among undesirable options leads to greater experienced conflict and greater decision difficulty, possibly leading to longer decision times.

The latest study found that people tend to have an easier time choosing among things they like than among things they hate.

The reverse held true when participants of the study were asked to reject an option; the decision time was quicker when researchers asked people to reject an option involving unattractive alternatives, than attractive alternatives.
Which has Kat thinking - "At this early hour of the morning on Super Tuesday, I still theoretically will have a choice this coming Nov. between some combination of Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Obama. Of those four, there's only one I'm willing to vote for. And I'm still not convinced that Obama even vaguely resembles a sundae."

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