Brain power

How the powerful make decisions

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

In an age of big data, there is an increasing level of scrutiny applied to the decision making process, especially of powerful people. For instance, earlier this year, a German study revealed that when making investment related decisions, executives frequently ignore data in favor of decisions based upon gut instinct.

A second study, from researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London and at University of London College found a similar preference for gut instinct amongst the powerful when making decisions.

Relying on gut instinct

The study found that those of us with high levels of social power were more likely to be influenced by internal body cues (ie gut instinct) when making a whole series of judgements and decisions.

Participants were primed to think of powerful situations, before then being asked to complete a specific motor skill. For instance, one group were required to train their ocular muscles, which control eye movements.

You would imagine that such training would improve the performance of all participants, but in fact, it emerged that only those who were previously primed to think powerfully saw a boost to their performance.

“There is more and more evidence that the powerful more strongly rely on internal cues when making judgments. Our research shows this for motor cues and preference judgments, but other research has also found the powerful to more strongly rely on other internal cues. For example, feelings of hunger predicts the amount of food eaten by powerful but not by powerless individuals; and feelings of easiness or difficulty associated with memory impacts judgments of powerful but not powerless individuals,” the authors say.

“Together with these findings, our research suggests that the powerful more strongly rely on gut feelings and internal cues when they make judgments about what they like, what is true, and what they should do. Sometimes it is good to be in touch with your feelings. But sometimes this can lead people astray and result in suboptimal judgments,” they continue.

Understanding the decision making process

So, it seems that the powerful increasingly discard data available to them to help them make more informed decisions. The authors suggest the first step to overcome this is to make powerful people aware of the bias in their decision making.

They then advocate having various mechanisms and processes in place to almost force powerful decision makers to consider a wide range of data before making their decisions.

“Our findings suggest that mechanisms need to be put into place that make sure power holders do not favour internal cues over other information available to them when they make important decisions,” they conclude.

Of course, suggesting that ones decision making is somewhat flawed may be a big enough barrier to overcome in the first place, before one even gets onto remedying the situation.

Source: How the powerful make decisions.

Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and Work.com, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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