Humans are notoriously bad at making decisions. We make mistakes all the time, even when we had deliberated on the issue for a very long time and believed we had a good handle on it. The truth, however, is that there is more going on behind the scenes than we would care to admit.
How are we effected by the extraneous and what does that mean for personal responsibility and authenticity?
The Hangry Judge
In a study published February 25, 2011, a team investigated whether extraneous, or unrelated, factors had any effect on the rulings brought down by experienced judges. Some of these factors include seemingly minor things like whether or not the judge had just gotten a break or if they had just eaten.
The results were very interesting. What they found was “that the likelihood of a favorable ruling is greater at the very beginning of the work day or after a food break than later in the sequence of cases.”
Now you may personally have an awareness that you are a bit moody when you haven’t gotten your daily Double-Mocha Venti Frappuccino or when you stayed up too late the night before Netflix-binging, but this study was done with experienced judges who truly believe they are following the law according to written principles.
If you were to ask them what factors made the most impact in their decisions you would most likely hear answers about the past of the criminal, the crime itself, their behavior while in jail or whatnot. You wouldn’t hear something like, “Well I finally got a swig of that Mountain Dew I had been craving from 10 o’clock on.” That would be extremely unlaw-like and would likely undermine the judges credibility.
However, it may be the case that small factors have more impact than the “larger” ones, depending on the context. What could be going on here?
Our Persuasive Emotionally Laced Thinking
As much as we like to think we are capable of deciding in a cold, calculated, and computer-like way, the truth is that our emotions always sneak in to have their say. There really is no way to “disconnect” yourself from your emotions, they are part of who you are and how you think. Understanding this is the first part to taking real control of your decision-making.
One shouldn’t be scared to say that emotions played a part in their decision, unless no attention was given to how those emotions may be warping the current situation. We learn to trust our initial judgments of a situation so deeply that we never question them, even when the outcome of the decision can have huge consequences.
When I tutored logic and was a teacher’s aide, I was required to grade some quizzes and tests for the teachers. Logic can be very black and white, but sometimes there are situations where an answer put forth by a student could fall in-between, leaving it up to me to make a decision as whether or not it was “correct.” When I first started and was inexperienced I got judgments I had made overturned by the professor because I hadn’t been as objective as I had thought. Looking back I wonder what tiny distractions or current moods had factored into those decisions.
After that I employed different techniques to make sure that didn’t happen like looking over the “on-the-fence” answers again the next morning after getting rest, or going back through and double-checking my reasoning for each one. College is a very important opportunity to better your future, and I felt I owed it to students to be extra careful in how I grade.
The fact remains, however, that errors occur in judgment often, sometimes due to mood, lack of energy, distraction, etc. All things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
Responsibility For Our Moodiness
The toughest thing to do is to admit you are wrong, or your judgment may be hindered by something silly, but that is precisely what needs to be done to competently handle our emotions and the impact they have on our decisions.
The first step is awareness. Whether it’s through self-reflection or a co-worker calling you out on your “asshole-ish” ways, you need to understand that how you make decisions rested is not the same as when extremely tired.
After that you can begin to take action.
Think of someone learning archery. They learn all they can about how to hold the bow and how to release the arrow. They can learn everything there is to know about the bow and arrow itself, but unless they learn how to gauge the wind on a stormy day they will find themselves off the mark.
Our emotions are like the wind. Having them is neither good nor bad, they are there for us to take responsibility for. However, we don’t want them to impact our decision-making in a way they shouldn’t and thus we should learn to accurately gauge how they affect the decision process and “aim the arrow” accordingly.
Some Ways To Combat Irrelevant Emotions
- If you have the time, come back to the decision later. Especially if you are not in the best of shape to make any decision. Get some sleep, get some food, some Dew, whatever it is you need and come back later.
- Be honest about your biases. Sometimes we learn biases just growing up and sometimes they can be hard to pinpoint and get rid of. Ask yourself honestly if something had an impact in your decision that shouldn’t have.
- Ask expert or outside opinion. Get another view of the situation. Would the judges’ decisions have been different if reviewed by another judge before the final decision was made? Maybe so.
- Be meta-cognizant. Learn enough self-awareness to be able to realize you are in a bad mood and act accordingly. Picture yourself as “not in a bad mood” before making your decision.
Emotions have an impact in our decision-making, even the most logical ones. This can sometimes be a good thing (I don’t want to work at a job I despise even if it pays well), and sometimes bad (I’m mad at my spouse and therefore am less lenient with a student’s mistake). The key is to take responsibility for these emotions, be aware how they impact us, and take them into account in our decision.
Doing so will yield much more accurate judgments and will assure us the small details aren’t overriding the larger, important ones. It will also make us more emotionally-healthy and better able to act wholesomely even in those situations which test our resolve.