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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Default Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?

    Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
    By JOHN TIERNEY
    August 17, 2011
    The New York Times

    Excerpt:
    Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:

    Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

    Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.

    Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

    There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

    The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.

    There was nothing malicious or even unusual about the judges’ behavior, which was reported earlier this year by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

    Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

    Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy. He was vague about the details, though, and quite wrong about some of them (like his idea that artists “sublimate” sexual energy into their work, which would imply that adultery should be especially rare at artists’ colonies). Freud’s energy model of the self was generally ignored until the end of the century, when Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University.

    These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. When people fended off the temptation to scarf down M&M’s or freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, they were then less able to resist other temptations. When they forced themselves to remain stoic during a tearjerker movie, afterward they gave up more quickly on lab tasks requiring self-discipline, like working on a geometry puzzle or squeezing a hand-grip exerciser. Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted. The experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation. To study the process of ego depletion, researchers concentrated initially on acts involving self-control *— the kind of self-discipline popularly associated with willpower, like resisting a bowl of ice cream. They weren’t concerned with routine decision-making, like choosing between chocolate and vanilla, a mental process that they assumed was quite distinct and much less strenuous. Intuitively, the chocolate-vanilla choice didn’t appear to require willpower.

    * * *

    “Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

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  2. #2
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.
    Actually, what I would say here is that the ability to make good decisions is being exercised preemptively, in order to not deplete one's natural reserve of energy. It's still a decision that values "good decision making" to conserve one's energies for things that matter.

    Otherwise, yes, I think energy gets depleted, and whatever is front-loaded tends to get the lion's share of energy reserves. I don't think this means the later decisions are necessarily bad ones, someone with consciousness of their own exhaustion will try to be diligent with those later decisions rather than unaware of their own bias at that time, but it's something that needs to be factored in.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  3. #3
    Not Your Therapist Sinmara's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    someone with consciousness of their own exhaustion will try to be diligent with those later decisions rather than unaware of their own bias at that time, but it's something that needs to be factored in.
    You're being very kind in assuming that the average person has the mental awareness and control to not only recognize when they're too tired to make decisions but then act on it.

    I exploit decision fatigue in my totally legit sales job every day, although I haven't had a name to put to it until now. If you overload a person with questions and meaningless decisions, especially after they've just spent hours perusing a store, combing through every little bit of merchandise and mentally haggling over what they're going to buy, more often than not they'll eventually just cave to expedite things so they can get the hell out.

    See, I've been commenting on people failing their Will saves for years.
    Never wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty and the pig will enjoy it.



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    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    This is very interesting, going to read it in more depth than I've been able to soon. I work in a job like the guys on the panel and we're expected a lot of the time to be as sharp and decisive if we've gone an entire night without sleep as if we're just arrived fresh after a weeks leave.

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    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Well, I don't work in retail. I think you're hitting a much broader base of person than I am. I've heard similar stories from friends who also work in retail and have to interact with the general populace.

    I typically have spent my career (and thus much of my waking day) in environments populated by people who are expected to be analytical, detached, fair, balanced, and weed out that bias on their own. The work is also more focused/concentrated on a specific area and mostly solitary work, so there's not a constant expenditure of energy just to communicate all the time.

    I think also, the situation you describe, people are rewarded on SOME level to just get something and get out, if they're exhausted, even if it's not exactly what they wanted, and the result still works for them; in my career (software), you make decisions like that, you can easily muck up million-dollar projects and find yourself out of a job; being less than analytical about a decision isn't a mistake that can be absorbed or tolerated.

    So I tend to also think about other professions where the ability to make decisions that matter and are balanced (such as a judge, etc) regardless of how much you've already done that day.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  6. #6
    Sniffles
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    I'll have to read this more in-depth, but would certainly explain a lot.

  7. #7
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    Hmm. This makes sense.

    And it reminds me of something I just read about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the Challenger explosion, and Chernobyl all possibly being linked to errors caused by sleep deprivation.

    People need to rest. Who knew! The Continentals had it right all along, centuries back, with their afternoon naps, two hour lunches, and six weeks of vacation.

    One day common sense shall prevail.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    That's... not good. Any idea on how to prevent such mishaps?

    The justice system is serious business.

  9. #9
    Not Your Therapist Sinmara's Avatar
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    What this article doesn't cover is the fact that will can be exercized and strengthened like a muscle. There have been other studies that suggest the more you make critical decisions every day, the less likely you will become fatigued by them. Thing is, average day-to-day decisions don't involve people potentially dying or companies losing millions. They're more like, "what kind of cheese do I want on my sandwich?" :P

    I will try to find and post the study as I have time to look around for it the next two days.
    Never wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty and the pig will enjoy it.



  10. #10
    Senior Member jimrckhnd's Avatar
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    It is well understood that cognitive skills deteriorate faster than physical ones when the individual is fatigued and/or subject to stress. If that is well understood by most people is, of course, another matter. I compensate for fatigue by knowing I'm not at my sharpest and simply taking more time to make analye and gather data before making decisions when I'm not at my best.

    I can reach a point however where I am so mentally or physically fatigued I find it very difficult to make even small decisions: sometimes I just get sick of making them and will point blank ask other people to figure out what is for dinner, when we need to go shopping, etc.. I simply just turn over as most decisons making authority as possible until I am rested.
    Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups

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