Discovery Fit & Health
Our decision-making process is heavily influenced by past experiences, instincts, our emotional states, our capacities for delayed gratification and the strong desire not to make wrong decisions. Even some innate desire for endorphins probably adds to our decisions. When you face more and more options and information, it can complicate your thinking and increase your expectations of regret. Information overload can make you hesitant to make any choice at all, or to immediately regret your choice once it's been made. The number of other options is so high that you might mourn all the could-have-beens and fixate on the what-ifs. Simply knowing you may feel this way after the decision is made can color an otherwise rational decision, or influence you to put a decision off as long as possible.
Stress and decision making affect one another in several ways. Sometimes, being faced with a major decision can cause a lot of stress. On the other hand, stress affects decision making. A study by U.K. psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O'Brien looked at how cognitive stress affects one's ability to make rational decisions. They found that study participants who were distracted had a harder time staying on task and making decisions than those who were not distracted. They also concluded that irrational biases tend to guide people's behavior when they're stressed [source: MedNews].
Stress is very individual; a situation that might cause one person to feel slightly uncomfortable may be hugely taxing for another. Common stressors are emotions (such as fears) and personality traits (such as perfectionism). Our family and friends can be good at stressing us out and changes in important relationships or in the workplace often cause stress in our lives. Being sick and suffering from acute or chronic pain can cause stress, as can other physical factors, like working too many hours. Drugs (such as nicotine), phobias and environmental situations (such as noise) can make you feel stressed too.
No matter what causes you stress, its impact on decision making has been shown as part of the overall physical toll stress and anxiety take. Researchers have shown these effects with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on the brain. Researchers also have found that men and women respond differently under stress, which also affects how they handle the combination of stress and decisions. Women tend to be more conservative about decisions when stressed, but men tend to make riskier choices [source: Isanski].
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