Researchers say this is the key to becoming a better decision maker


Effective leadership has everything to do with organization; the ability to eliminate sterile agents from a larger vision.

When attempting to realize ambitious ideas, we’re often stifled by the tendency to get overly granular.  Ostensibly, giving yourself as many alternatives as possible seems practical, but new research actually suggests that limiting yourself to two options is the most effective way to execute tough decisions.

“One goal of our research is to understand how people act in a world with ever more options, as you have with online stores or large shopping malls,” explained study leader Professor Sebastian Gluth in a press release. “Usually, we don’t have to choose between an apple and an orange – but between tens or hundreds of different apples and oranges.”

The study, published in the journal of Nature Human Behavior, posits that there are rarely more than two viable options facing us on any given task. The sooner we weed out tertiary options, the sooner we can decide between the two most appealing contenders.

When it comes to leading a team, judgment doesn’t mean much if it isn’t attended by momentum.

Value-based attention and executive decision making

The new paper was co-authored by a team of neuroscientists from Basel University.

Computationally, the researchers demonstrated how quickly our attention spans become compromised in the presence of too many considerations.

“We show that extending an established sequential sampling decision-making model by a value-based attention mechanism offers a comprehensive account of the interplay between value, attention, response times and decisions,” the authors wrote in the report.

Via two preregistered tracking experiments and a series of rounds assigned to each, 139 participants were asked to choose between three different food options. By analyzing the subjects’ eye movements the researchers were able to determine that the respondents were not spreading their attention evenly across the three choices presented to them. Instead, individuals devoted the majority of their focus toward the two most appealing options.

When the third and least appealing option was eliminated from the start, participants were able to decide between the two contenders much quicker. They were additionally more likely to second guess themselves when faced with more than two variants. This particular flaw in the decision-making process has actually been documented in preceding literature.

The effect, since dubbed divisive normalization, describes panic energized by distractors masking as courses of action. Among students and even academicians, relative choice accuracy between two options decreases as the value of a third option increases.

You might recall being instructed on the process of elimination at some point during your education. It’s a logical approach to an abundance of possibilities. The sheer presence of multiple alternatives fogs our judgment. Intrinsically we know which courses of action actually deserve our consideration, which is why eliminating as many improbable candidates as possible strengthens our decision making instincts.

An executive needs to be able to survey all of the factors that will adversely and advantageously affect an outcome, prioritize the latter and foresee consequences of the former. Not merely for the sake of profit but also to be able to explain their process to their  subordinates.

“Leaders must be able to analyze, interpret and evaluate vital information as presented in charts, graphs, text or tables.  They must understand what the numbers mean and how this impacts their options,” writes Director of Content Management at Insight Assessment. “Being a strongly skilled decision-maker requires having excellent analytical and interpretive skills. These are used to determine the issues that must be addressed and accounted for in the deliberative and implementation phases.”

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