Armed with information, people make poor choices, study finds

March 31, 2010

When faced with a choice that could yield either short-term satisfaction or longer-term benefits, people with complete information about the options generally go for the quick reward, according to new research from University of Texas at Austin psychologists.

The findings, available online in the journal Judgment and , could help better explain the decisions make on everything from eating right and exercising to spending more on environmentally friendly products.

"You'd think that with more about your options, a person would make a better decision. Our study suggests the opposite," says Associate Professor Bradley Love, who conducted the research with graduate student Ross Otto. "To fully appreciate a long-term option, you have to choose it repeatedly and begin to feel the benefits."

As part of the study, 78 subjects were repeatedly given two options through a that allowed them to accumulate points. For each choice, one option offered the subject more points. But choosing the other option could lead to more points further along in the experiment.

A small cash bonus was tied to the subjects' performance, providing an incentive to rack up more points during the 250 trial questions.

However, subjects who were given full and accurate information about what they would have to give up in the short term to rack up points in the long term, chose the quick payoff more than twice as often as those who were given false information or no information about the rewards they would be giving up.

In a real-life scenario, a student who stayed home to study and then learned he had missed a fun party would be less likely to study next time in a similar situation — even if that option provides more long-term benefits.

"Basically, people have to stay away from thinking about the short-term pains and gains or they are sunk and, objectively, will end up worse off," says Love.

While psychologists have long studied how humans make choices, this is among the first research that examines how people measure "what could have been" when they make repeated decisions that affect their future state.

Love says he believes the long-term benefits of specific decisions can be reinforced by tangible rewards, such as a good grade, a raise or promotion, which can serve as markers of long-term success and help overcome short-term biases

"If there no were no conflict in our choices, this wouldn't be a problem. But everything has that conflict between short-term and long-term goals," says Love. "It's really hard for a learning system to disentangle what's good for you in the short term or long-term."

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1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2010
Where was the real pain? Moral codes were promulgated and adopted by societies because of lessons learned.
Every generation since has tried to weasel out of those moral codes and society suffers for it.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2010
define "worse off", and since when are "a good grade, a raise or promotion" either marks of success or even, dare I say, "tangible". What we have here appears to be researchers measuring themselves, measuring their own expectations and values, and then projecting the findings on to their subjects.
not rated yet Mar 31, 2010
define "worse off", and since when are "a good grade, a raise or promotion" either marks of success or even, dare I say, "tangible".

because you have just defined them - they are tangible -- good grades are marks of success they demonstrate full comprehension of a subject - a raise or a promotion are subjective but indicate , normally, an understanding of a job or the understanding necessary to take on more responsibility

I believe that researchers placed under the same test given would fair just the same -- ALL people have issues with long term reward versus short term was the conclusion -- if you feel threatened by people with a college degree or have had bad experiences with them in the past possibly for unfairly judging peoples acceptance of short term over the long term that is your own person issue teledyn but cannot be inferred from this research.
I see where your logic went however -people chose short term gains over long term -look they picked parting vs study

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