Emotional Factors That Affect Decision Making


There is simply no question that, for the most part, it is best to make decisions without emotions involved. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as letting emotions drive your choice of a mate in life, or choosing a cheeseburger with bacon, because it simply sounds too good, and the urge is too great, to ignore it. However, when it comes to life-affecting and/or life-altering decisions, these should be made with a calm head, rationally and dispassionately. That being said, it would be beneficial to offer an article on the subject of emotional and irrational factors that can impact decision making, if for no other reason than to give the learner a series of "What not to do's" when making profound choices.

Irrational factors and decision making

Research has been conducted on the subject of decision making with a number of surprising results. First, irrational can refer to a number of odd ways in which we experience things, or factors that may affect us in unexpected ways. This is important to mention at the outset of this section, because irrational does not always mean to behave in an out of control manner.

Believe it or not, science has found there several physical indicators that set the tone for poor decision making. One of these is fatigue. That's right. Research has shown that when a person is tired, they are less likely to apply the tried and true process of decision making, with all its steps. This sets the stage for poor decisions to be made that could have long-lasting effects. This is evident in many small decisions that people make. For example, fatigue impacts the decision-making process in driving. There are hundreds of instances when a driver is too tired to give the responsibility his or her full attention. Because of this, a driver may decide to pass when it is unsafe, or speed through a yellow light, instead of stopping. The result may be an injury or fatality accident, and all because the individual was not well-rested enough to make proper decisions. Choices made in the midst of overtiredness occur constantly; people snap at someone they would otherwise treat with respect, or make a spur-of-the moment purchase they would not have done otherwise -- and all because we are simply not ourselves when we are exhausted. The synapses in our brain aren't connecting, the fibers of our being are crying out for sleep. Plowing through decisions is just one more thing to do to get us closer to the time when we can close our eyes and rejuvenate our minds, bodies, and souls.

And speaking of mental sharpness -- overwhelmingly, people are better decision-makers in the morning. Again, that is because they are better rested, for the most part, and this allows for clarity of thought, hence more reasonable choices.

A second factor that impacts proper and rational decision making is hunger. Research shows that if you are hungry, this is a physical feeling that spills over into the decision-making part of the brain, negatively impacting it in a way that makes us opt for higher risk choices. One study revealed that persons who are fasting make financial decisions that are often riskier than if they were well-fed and able to concentrate on the decision-making process. This is a trait we share with our animal friends, who are known to utilize risk-seeking behavior with greater disregard when they are hungry, than when they are full.

If all of that sounds odd, but sensible, it is also important to note that proper decision making occurs in well-ventilated areas versus those that are stuffy and hot. The latter tends to make people drowsy, and in that state, decision-making skills are dulled. This can actually be traced to the presence of carbon dioxide in the air, as high levels of the gas cause a sharp decline in mental acuity.

Other factors that should be taken into account prior to undergoing the process of decision making include awareness of the fact that we are inclined to make worse decisions as the day wears on, and remaining sedentary for too long can negatively affect the ability to make decisions. Human bodies are like machines, they need optimum conditions to run at their best. Otherwise, it's a case of "garbage in/garbage out."

Emotions and decision making

Despite the fact that we can rationally acknowledge that emotions generally impact decision making in a negative way, there is a wealth of research to confirm that our brains rely on emotions over intellect in the process! The thing about emotions, that we all know, is there is nothing particularly precise about them. They can't be imagined on a brain scanner, or seen by x-rays. Yet, they are there, nonetheless, and more and more they are driving people to behave erratically and against all logical decision making.

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It's true. Emotions don't require much in the way of cognition. They are gut-oriented and come out of the core of our being in response to any number of situations. Sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a table for more than 15 minutes?

Let's just carry that example a bit further. It is likely that most people would become increasingly annoyed at the restaurant scenario. Now, if you are the type of person who has internalized the decision-making process, then you might remain calm and mentally name the decision that must be made: Should you stay and continue to wait for a table, or consider all of the other options at your disposal, then create a list of choices – go to another restaurant, get take-out and go home to eat, go home and cook, get your spouse to prepare a meal (that's the application of creativity to decision making), or make another choice. Perhaps you'd call a friend or family member to solicit their advice while you're waiting. Eventually, you would either continue to wait, and likely become even angrier – ruining what might have started out as a wonderful time – or make an alternate decision and implement it.

Now, one thing is true about emotions. They have been a part of the human psyche for thousands of years. Jealousy, rage, happiness, despondency, grief, fright -- and all of the other emotions in between -- are what history has been made of for as long as mankind has been in existence. That means emotions are not going anywhere. They are a part of you, and the best thing to do about emotions, is to learn how to recognize and address them, separate from decision making, so they do not interfere -- or their ability to interfere is minimized.

One might think of emotions as a cuing system of the gut, because this is where reactions to them emanate from. Your emotions send of signals that can be irrational and consuming. They may be rooted in misconceptions and be entirely wrong.

For example, you perceive that someone has slighted you and it makes you angry. You perceive that someone is flirting with your partner and it makes you jealous. Emotions cloud the ability to make intellectual judgments, and it is this need to be calm and prudent in the process of decision making that causes a disconnect between emotions and analytical thinking.

What should you do?

In this article, the aim was not to walk through a step-by-step process of getting their emotions under control, and or circumventing irrational factors to ensure they do not interfere with decision making. There are those in the field of psychology that would even argue for the need to involve emotions in decision making, and can point to studies that confirm this proposition. This is not a claim we will make here.

Nor is our intent to analyze the breadth of emotions and irrational factors that can impact decision making. Rather, it is to explain that both can interrupt healthy decision making and one must be on guard against it.

For instance, who has not made a rash decision in the heat of a moment? Consider this example. Mr. D. has been collaborating with colleague Ms. O, and together, they have been working very hard on a project for his boss. The two co-workers plan on completing it today, and presenting it to their employer together in an afternoon meeting. Ms. O has been bucking for a promotion and sees this project as her opportunity, so she decides to take it to the boss prior to Mr. D's appearance at work that day. Now, we will not even take the time to analyze Ms. O's decision-making process that brought her to implement this action. Instead, we will peek in on Mr. D., when he discovers that he has been betrayed by a colleague with whom he has worked for several weeks and developed a relationship of trust.

We would expect that Mr. D. would not be able to uncouple his emotions from a decision about how to respond.

Here is where this article will give the only advice we feel qualified to dole out. Learn to recognize and name your feelings, before allowing them to drive any decisions. That's right. When emotions begin to set in, develop the ability to self-assess. Learn to think, or even say out loud, that "I am ____". Then fill in the blank with the appropriate emotion. Naming an emotion is a valuable first step toward having authority over it. This simple declarative sentence should then be followed with the sentence, "I will not let _____ interfere with my ability to make rational, reasoned decisions."

Emotions are the wild card in all human behavior. Understanding how to address them requires a degree in psychology and many sessions with a therapist. This is not a bad thing, at all; emotions are what make us human. But they should not be the impetus for poor decision making. Learning to separate emotion from action is the hallmark of maturity. Even so, it takes practice.

Conclusions about irrational factors, emotions, and decision making

The master decision maker recognizes that biorhythms, and what appear to be unrelated circumstances, can impact how one sees their options. Simple factors, such as time of day, amount of rest, and hunger all make a difference in the ability to behave rationally and make appropriate choices. Therefore, when you begin the decision making process you must learn to ask yourself if, and what, undue influences might be affecting your reasoning.

The same can be said for emotions. Stop yourself mentally prior to setting the decision-making process in motion, and ask if, and what, emotions might be the purpose for decision making in the first place.

In other words, and in layman's terms, apply this simple mental checklist:

*Am I too tired to make a rational decision?

*Am I too hungry to make a rational decision?

*Am I in a highly sensitive emotional state that will influence my ability to make a rational decision?

Decision maker – know thyself. Learn to reflect on your own state of mind and well-being prior to making a life-altering decision -- or even undergoing the process. If you are faced with decision making at the end of a long day, or after an especially traumatic experience, then it is best to postpone until such time as you are well rested and able to think more clearly. Otherwise, all aspects of the process may be skewed and the final decision could be based on misconceptions and false presumptions.