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Lecture 10

INST 354 Lecture 10: INST354 Lecture 10: Definition of a Decision

Information Studies
Course Code
INST 354

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INST354 Lecture 10: Definition of a Decision
A good image of what we mean by decision making is of a person pausing at a fork in the road,
and then choosing one pathto reach a desired goal or to avoid an unpleasant outcome. The
most important evolutionary situations that selected our basic decision-making capacities
probably involved physical approach or avoidancewhich waterhole, field, fruit tree, cave,
stranger, mate, and so forth, to approach and which to avoid. In prehistoric times, bad decisions
were punished in a dramatic manner; as the philosopher Willard van Orman Quine (1969)
commented, “Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy
tendency to die before reproducing their kind” (p. 126). In other words, animals, including
humans, that make bad predictions of the future and consequently bad decisions tend to die
before they can pass their genes on to the next generation; this is one reason that we, and other
animals, are good at making survival decisions.
If we took a census of situations that we label decisions in the modern world, it would look
quite different from the list of essential decisions in primordial environments. What college
course should I enroll in next semester? Is the defendant innocent or guilty? Should I move my
retirement investments from stocks to real estate? Which car should I purchase? Some,
however, are still essential to survival and well-being: Should I marry my current partner?
Should I have surgery or chemotherapy?
Table 2.1 is compiled from several surveys of examples of “decisions” reported by students,
retired persons, academic historians, and decision textbook authors (see Allison, Jordan, &
Yeatts, 1992, for a systematic study). (We present these examples exactly as they were stated
by the sourceswithout any editorial changes.) It is worth noting that all of these decisions are
deliberate, conscious accomplishments, although we probably want to call some highly
automatic mental processes decisions as well. For example, it is useful to analyze automatic
driving behaviors as a sequence of decisions, and a spate of scientific papers analyze the
microsecond saccadic movements of the eyes as decisions (Newsome, 1997). However, for the
most part we focus on more deliberate, controlled decision processes in this book. In addition,
we briefly discuss the extended, long-term sequences of self-control behaviors that are often
referred to as decisions, although only the initial events in those sequences could qualify as
decision processes in the terms used in this book. For example, we might refer to the “decision
someone makes to lose weight, including long-term, persistent efforts as part of “the decision.”
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