Every decision is a balancing act.
University of Newcastle researcher Guy Hawkins understands this better than most. The study of decision-making is part of his job.
His work takes him beneath the surface of the mind and into the science and mathematics of cognition and consumer preferences.
Presently, he’s examining “the value of time during decisions” with a $330,000 Australian Research Council grant.
In an increasingly impatient world of instant gratification, this subject becomes even more meaningful and relevant.
“My collaborator Professor Scott Brown and I aim to investigate the value that people place on passing time when making decisions,” he said.
This partly relates to how much time people are willing to spend on a decision.
“This requires consideration of the importance of the outcomes of a decision and how acceptable it is to make a mistake or to deliberate for a long time,” he said.
The study is examining how people balance these competing factors.
Every person makes dozens of decisions each day.
This includes things like what to eat and wear, what to say and do, how to spend or invest money, where to live and how to spend time.
“We’ve all experienced the feeling of being rushed when making a decision,” said Dr Hawkins, of the university’s School of Psychology.
Dr Hawkins said every decision involves “a balance between acting speedily and cautiously”.
“Sometimes we don’t spend enough time considering our options,” he said.
After a rash decision, there can be a feeling of regret. If we’d had more time to think about it, would we have made a different decision?
While some decisions can be rushed, other times people spend too much time deliberating. They repeatedly check the options “just to be sure”.
Dr Hawkins said good decision-makers were “adept at determining when a situation calls for a speedy decision and when it requires more caution”.
“When judging whether you should be speedy or cautious, it’s important to think about the consequences of the decision,” he said.
He added that the research was about the “fundamental understanding of how people think about time while making decisions”.
“We hope to use some of those insights in future work to better understand things like consumer decisions when at the shops or buying health insurance,” he said.
Research in this area has implications in all walks of life, including finances, health, relationships, ethics, business, consumer choice and public policy.
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