Too Specific Information Can Gum Up Decision-MakingNew research suggests detailed analysis of a situation may undermine the decision-making process because variables are inappropriately weighed.

This concept stems from research on gambling that discovered people are less successful in predicting the winner of a sports event when they bet on the final score. Rather, individuals do better when a person merely picks a team to win or lose.

Kwanho Suk, Ph.D., and colleagues at Korea University Business School found that people who relied on more detailed information were actually less accurate in their predictions about sports match outcomes.

These results stand in contrast to the conventional wisdom that thoughtful deliberation improves decision-making. “Our research suggests that predicting results — at least for sports matches — in a less deliberate way can actually improve prediction accuracy,” explained Suk.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, Suk and colleagues analyzed 1.9 billion bets from Korea’s largest sports-betting company from 2008 to 2010.

The researchers discovered people who bet on whether a soccer team would win or lose were better at predicting the overall outcome of the match than those who bet on the score.

They found the same pattern of results for betting on baseball games and the findings also held up in lab-based studies, in which Suk and colleagues assigned participants to make either win/lose/tie bets or score bets.

Data from the lab studies suggest that win/lose bettors are more accurate because they base their bets on general information about the sports teams, such as the teams’ overall performance in recent years.

Surprisingly, analysis of more detailed information to inform their betting decisions —for example, a team’s defense, offense, and coaching ability — did not improve the accuracy of participants’ predictions.

“In everyday life, people often try to be specific to be accurate,” said Suk and colleagues, but this new research suggests that specificity and accuracy don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

In weighing detailed information, we tend to give “greater weight to attributes that are more salient, justifiable, and easy to articulate,” the researchers said. As a result, we often lose sight of more general attributes that actually matter.

The flawed decision making process of “specificity bias” may be a common occurrence in areas beyond sports betting.

Researchers believe the study shows how this bias can influence sports betting, with Suk and colleagues suggesting that a similar bias is likely to play a role in making business decisions.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Abstract of a person with a busy mind photo by shutterstock.