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Why Decision-Making Improves with Experience

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

If you're an expert, trust your gut reaction.

  • The more experience you have in a certain field, the easier it is for you to make decisions. 
  • You are more likely to choose an action similar to one that yielded a positive result in the past.
  • There are four major decision-making styles. 

The more of an expert someone is, the more they should trust their gut when making decisions, research has shown.

A person's proficiency within a particular field has a positive impact on their ability to make accurate gut decisions, researchers at Rice University, George Mason University and Boston College discovered.

"Although there's been a lot of research on the concept of intuition, there's relatively little research directly comparing whether it's best to 'trust your gut' versus taking time to make a decision," said Erik Dane, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of management at the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business.

The results were based on two separate experiments. In one experiment, participants rated the difficulty of basketball shots, and in the other, participants judged whether designer handbags were real or fake.

In the first study, 184 undergraduate students watched video clips of basketball shots taken during two college basketball games and were given 10 seconds after each shot to rate its difficulty. The students were split into either an intuitive group, where they based decisions entirely on their first impression, or an analytical group, where they based decisions on a list of factors they each developed to determine the shot's difficulty.

The researchers found that intuition was more effective for students who had played at least three years of high school basketball. Specifically, in the intuitive group, those considered experts performed better on the task, while there was no significant difference in the analytical group between those with high and low expertise.

In the second study, the researchers recruited 239 undergraduate students to make decisions about whether designer handbags were authentic or counterfeit. The participants, who again were split into intuitive and analytical groups, made their decisions by looking at – but not touching – 10 designer handbags.

The people in the intuitive group were given five seconds to view each handbag and were told to base their decisions entirely on their first impression, while the people in the analytical group were told to ignore any gut instincts and base their decisions on careful analysis.

Once again, the researchers found that intuition was more effective for those with high expertise, which was considered to be those who owned at least three Coach and Louis Vuitton handbags.

Overall, the studies found that experts significantly outperformed novices when making decisions intuitively but not when making decisions analytically.

Dane warned, however, that intuition isn't the best way to make decisions in all situations.

"Tasks that can be solved through predetermined steps, like math problems, are not as conducive to intuitive decision making as less-structured tasks, which may include certain strategic or human resource management problems," Dane said.

The research was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Decision-making based on past experience

When a past decision yielded a positive result, it is fairly safe to say that you should make a similar choice when faced with the same type of decision. Conversely, if a decision did not have a positive outcome, you should not choose a similar course of action in the future. 

When you want to make a sound decision, there are some steps you can take to help you determine the best path. First, outline the steps you have to take to make the decision. Is there any other information you need before making the decision?

List all of your options. There are usually at least two, but there are often more than that. Once you have outlined the options, you can determine the positives and negatives of each choice. 

You should also give yourself a deadline so you don't agonize too long over the choice. Think about each of the options, and really see what that path looks like and what the outcome might be. 

Looking at everything you have outlined, see which way you are leaning. Then, sleep on it. Take another look at the pros and cons, and make your decision based on rational thinking. 

What are four decision-making styles?

According to the Enterprisers Project, a community for chief technology officers and IT professionals, there are four main types of decision-making styles: directive, analytical, conceptual and behavioral. Directive decision making is when you look at the positives and negatives of the problem based on the information you already have. This is a rational way to make a decision and does not handle ambiguity well. Decisions are based on knowledge, experience and rationale, but not on a deeper understanding of more information. These types of decisions are fast and sometimes impulsive. 

Analytical decision making is when you carefully examine all of the information before you make a decision. You rely on data, facts and observation to make the proper choice. This decision type seeks out more information from others. These individuals do not need clarity and can adapt to changes, but they like to remain in control. 

Conceptual decision making is when the decision uses a more social approach. This decision-making type uses creative thinking and collaborative thought and thinks about the future when making the right choice. 

Behavioral decision-makers want to make sure that all of the pieces work together. This is a group type of decision making but does not use brainstorming for the possible options; the options are already given to this decision-making type. This type of decision-maker discusses the positives and negatives and considers all opinions.  

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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