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Does Less Information Lead to Better Decisions?

Decision-Makinf ResearchLast week, we highlighted an eight-step process for decision-making developed by blogger Jenny Blake. Much of the process revolves around gathering and organizing information about the decision and your anxieties about it. This makes sense, of course. When faced with a momentous decision, it's natural to want to have as much information as possible. But is gathering all this data really helping you choose?

On his blog this week, author Nicholas Carr points readers to science that suggests too much information may fry our decision-making circuits in the same way too much electricity fries a fuse. He cites a write up of recent neuroscience research in Newsweek by Sharon Begley, which describes studies of people's brains while they performed incredibly taxing "combinatorial auctions," where "bidders consider a dizzying number of items that can be bought either alone or bundled, such as airport landing slots." How do their brains cope with all that information? In short, they don't.

Begley writes about researcher Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, who stuck study participants in an fMRI machine while they bid in auctions and discovered that,

As the information load increased... so did activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region behind the forehead that is responsible for decision making and control of emotions. But as the researchers gave the bidders more and more information, activity in the dorsolateral PFC suddenly fell off, as if a circuit breaker had popped. "The bidders reach cognitive and information overload," says Dimoka. They start making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for smart decision making has essentially left the premises. For the same reason, their frustration and anxiety soar: the brain's emotion regions--previously held in check by the dorsolateral PFC--run as wild as toddlers on a sugar high. The two effects build on one another. "With too much information, " says Dimoka, "people's decisions make less and less sense."
Begley concludes that all the information that technology has put at our fingertips may just be making it harder for us to make decisions -- from the mundane choice of where to go on vacation to bigger decisions like where to go to college. It's a lengthy article with much more detail, and well worth reading in full.
Does your experience mesh with the latest brain science -- is a flood of information paralyzing? And if so, how do you deal with deluge while still getting all the data you need to choose correctly?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user everyone's idle, CC 2.0)
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