Under favorable circumstances, most people will do their best to think logically and make good decisions. However, life frequently produces circumstances that are far from favorable, and the impact of adverse conditions can significantly degrade the quality of the decision-making process. In a study published in 2009 in the journal Psychological Science, a team of British psychologists examined the ways in which stress can alter the decisions people make. They did this by asking study participants to play a gambling game, then distracting the participants at certain points during the course of the game. After reviewing the results of this experiment, the authors of the study found that the stress caused by distraction significantly degrades people’s ability to make accurate decisions. Interestingly, they also concluded that distracted people tend to ignore the possible negative outcomes of their decisions and unrealistically rely on positive outcomes.
In a study published in 2012 in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, a team of researchers from University College London examined the ways in which people try to negotiate their way through chains of complex decisions. Generally speaking, these types of decisions have so many potential outcomes that no one can predict their consequences in advance. The researchers concluded that many people cope with complexity by consciously or unconsciously simplifying the task at hand and eliminating certain choices early on in the decision-making process. They also concluded that, like people under stress, people simplifying their decisions tend to eliminate potentially negative outcomes and emphasize potentially positive outcomes. Unfortunately, the attempt to eliminate negative outcomes from the realm of possibility can contribute substantially to a poor decision-making process. This is true, in part, because outcomes that appear negative at first glance may actually produce better real-world results than outcomes that appear positive at first glance. The authors of the study concluded that people who tend to exclude unwanted outcomes from their decision-making processes might increase their chances of developing depression, a condition that typically features a reduced ability to think clearly. They also concluded that the more any given individual tries to exclude potentially negative outcomes from complex decision-making, the greater the chances the he or she will experience depression-related symptoms.
Role in Diagnosed Cases of Depression
In a pair of studies published in 2010 in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, a team of researchers examined the ways in which poor decision-making manifests in people diagnosed with major depression or some other form of depression. In the first of these two studies, the researchers asked a group of depressed individuals to make a series of decisions and then explain their reasons for making their choices. After reviewing those decisions and explanations, the authors of the study concluded that a depressed person’s likelihood of making poor decisions increases along with the number of depression symptoms he or she develops. In the second of the two studies, the researchers provided a group of depressed individuals with techniques designed to improve their decision-making skills. The authors of the study found that people who receive this kind of help don’t experience the same increase in poor decision-making when they develop more depression symptoms. As a result of this finding, the authors concluded that depressed people don’t actually lose their ability to make sound decisions; instead, they simply use this ability less often than people unaffected by depression.