Two IU researchers have contributed to a study revealing that seemingly insignificant decisions can cause fatigue. Apply that to the average life of a college student and it means impaired decision-making.
The phenomena is commonly referred to as decision fatigue.
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, decision fatigue is what occurs when cognitive energy is depleted after a person makes too many choices. Ed Hirt and Peter Todd, two professors in the IU Psychological and Brain Sciences department, recently commented on this study
regarding the potential effects of this energy loss.
The study observed judges in Israel while they made decisions regarding whether a convicted person should receive parole.
Researchers found the percentage of favorable rulings dropped gradually from around 65 percent to nearly zero within each decision session and returned abruptly to around 65 percent after a break.
Hirt said fatigue could explain the change.
“There is pretty good evidence that doing any exercise that involves self-control makes people tired,” Hirt said. “The same thing happens with decision-making.”
Hirt said decision fatigue affects everyone differently because it is all about perception.
If individuals are enjoying the decision-making process, such as when they are choosing what to eat, they are less likely to experience fatigue because the choices
require less self-control.
Similarly, the recovery process depends on the person.
“Any type of restorative activity can help get your performance back up to a good level,” Hirt said. “For some people it could be meditation, some people could take a nap and some people might play video games.”
Professor Todd has a different opinion on the subject.
“I don’t really believe in decision fatigue being as widespread as people imagine,” Todd said. “We did a big comparison of about 50 studies and found that people do not systematically get overwhelmed by too much choice.”
One of the studies Todd referred to looked at people’s shopping habits and found they were much more likely to purchase something when they were given a choice between
other similar options.
Regardless of the actual effect decision-making can have on people’s cognitive abilities, Hirt said it is always important for people to be aware of their energy levels.
“There’s a lot of things we do, like making choices, that require self-control,” he said.
“Students need to recognize that they can only do those things for a certain amount of
time before your performance starts to suffer, and come up with effective ways to break up your time.”