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How to Make Quick Decisions in a World of Choices

How can we make quick yet well-thought-out decisions in a world with ever more options and choices? A new Swiss study finds that the faster we break down multiple alternatives into just two options, the more quickly and easily we can make a decision.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

In two experiments, psychologists from the University of Basel in Switzerland asked 139 participants to choose between three different foods that changed over multiple rounds.The researchers monitored the participants’ attention with an eye tracker.

The results show that people did not distribute their attention equally, but increasingly focused on the two options they found most promising. This led to faster decisions; the easier it was to discount the worst option, the more quickly the participant was able to decide between the two remaining options.

In previous similar research, participants were usually only given two options to choose between; in recent years, however, research has increasingly turned to decisions with three or more alternatives.

This is because people can behave in many contradictory and inconsistent ways when there are multiple similar options. For example, someone who initially selects chicken over pasta may change their preference when another vegetarian option such as salad is added, and may then suddenly find the pasta more appealing.

Such inconsistencies when making decisions have important implications for decision theories in economics, psychology and neuroscience. Based on the new findings, the researchers have proposed a mathematical model that reflects the flexibility of preference formation and eye movements when making decisions between multiple alternatives.

“One goal of our research,” said study leader Professor Sebastian Gluth, “is to understand how people act in a world with ever more options, as you have with online stores or large shopping malls.”

The findings should help to advance our understanding of decision-making in today’s real-life environments. “Usually, we don’t have to choose between an apple and an orange but between tens or hundreds of different apples and oranges,” Gluth said.

Source: University of Basel


How to Make Quick Decisions in a World of Choices

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). How to Make Quick Decisions in a World of Choices. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Feb 2020 (Originally: 4 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Feb 2020
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