Research Suggests Decisions Requiring More Time are Linked to Lack of Confidence


New evidence from a 2014 study by New York University neuroscientists suggests that decisions requiring more time are interpreted by our brains as being overall less confident decisions. The study found that when we take less time to make a decision, our brains consider such decisions as very confident. While the study’s authors hope that this evidence leads to greater understandings of cognitive and mental disorders associated with poor decision making, “like obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and mood disorders,” this research could also potentially be applied to studying and exam prep.

The study suggests that when our brains have a wealth of evidence regarding the possible outcome of a choice, our brains need less time to make a decision. However, the less evidence our brains have about the outcome of a decision, the more time it takes to collect evidence based on observations. Thus, decisions that require more time are often much less confident decisions than those that required less time.

Dr. Kiani, one of the study’s authors, summarizes their findings as such: “What improves [a] decision is not time per se, it is the evidence accumulated over time. Additional time is useful only if it adds to the overall evidence that is used for the decision. If an endless stream of evidence is available, humans usually terminate the decision-making process and commit to a choice as soon as they accumulate a satisfactory level of evidence. We do not wait endlessly to reach a perfect decision because there is a cost associated with waiting.”

The evidence from this study seems to also give credence to the belief that following your first choice is usually the most confident decision. This can be applied to testing in general as a means of proving one’s knowledge. Moreover, it can broadly be applied to answering multiple choice questions on standardized tests, like the SAT, ACT and ISEE exams.

This new evidence also supports the need for some preparation in advance of standardized testing. After months of test prep, workbooks and practice, students who have regularly been exposed to the type of material they will be tested on have a greater advantage of being more confident in their responses on the actual exam.  Students who are moving into 2015 can take advantage of this new research to motivate them to gain more exposure of the question types and testing strategies for these exams in order to more confidently produce correct responses during the actual exam.

Click here for the study’s full report.

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