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How Anxiety Leads to Bad Choices
Why You Make Better Decisions In Another Language
When we are confronted with the a large number of options, some people can feel paralyzed. This condition is known as "decision fatigue", and if you've ever felt overwhelmed at the supermarket when trying to decide what kind of toothpaste to buy, then you've experienced it. The neurons in our brain can't really tell the difference between a small decision and big one, and making any sort of decision requires our brain to expend energy. As our brains get fatigued, we become more likely to taking shortcuts and more susceptible to suggestion. A 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found this anxiety can heavily weigh on some people's lives. The study found that judges granted parole to prisoners 65 percent of the time in the morning, but the rate decreased throughout the day to zero. When the judges were given a break, their grant rate jumped back to about 65 percent. Being tasked with making decisions fatigues the brain. Even when we feel confident with our decisions, the process causes anxiety.
Researchers from Princeton looked at the brains of people making decisions with a functional MRI to see where blood was flowing and what parts of it were being used. The researchers found that the striatum and prefrontal cortex were involved when making a decision. They asked participants how they were feeling, and the more items people have to choose from, the higher their anxiety was. When we make a decision, we get worried that we'll make the "wrong" choice, and that gives us anxiety. In the Princeton study, the subjects asked to pick between winning a camcorder or a digital camera at auction, or a desk lamp and a water bottle, which doesn't really seem like a difficult or stressful decision to make. On way to lessen decision fatigue is to have a regular choice. Steve Jobs, for example, was famous for wearing the same black turtleneck every day. By not having to worry about what to wear, he presumably freed up his mental power to make more decisions later.
Have you ever experienced decision fatigue? Are you experiencing it right now trying to decide the answer to the previous question? We'd love to hear about your experience with decision fatigue, so we hope you chose to leave a comment down below!
Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? (New York Times)
"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. "
New Brain Study Shows Why Making Difficult Choices Sucks (NY Mag)
"A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shines some light on the nature of this sort of anxiety, and shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it's most potent when we're choosing between two things that we both greatly covet."