Does Delaying Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes?

When they conducted a series of experiments, reported recently in Psychological Science, participants were asked to choose between a default and an alternative. 82% opted for the default when making the choice straight away, but when delayed this dropped to 56%.

The authors conclude by saying that:

“…electing to delay making a choice is taken as a sign of doubt about which option is best, a state that tends to be attributed disproportionately to the normative option, lessening its appeal.”

We may actually take the very fact that we are delaying as a message from our unconscious that we’ve got doubts about the default option, even though those doubts are probably about the decision as a whole. The default option bears the brunt of these doubts because that’s what we’re thinking about most of the time. It’s a simple association.

And so the answer to whether delaying a choice leads to a better decision is: it depends what the default decisions is. When the default is better, the decision will be worse; whereas if the alternative is better, it will be an improvement.

Niels van de Ven and colleagues conclude with the key insight:

“…decision makers should be aware that the decision to delay making a choice is not a neutral act: It alters the choices they make in a predictable direction.”

If you delay, you’ll move away from the default. That fact needs to be built into your decision, whatever you are trying to decide about.

Source

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