Decision Quicksand: How Trivial Choices Suck Us In
People often get unnecessarily mired in trivial decisions. Four studies support a metacognitive account for this painful phenomenon. Our central premise is that people use subjective experiences of difficulty while making a decision as a cue to how much further time and effort to spend. People generally associate important decisions with difficulty. Consequently, if a decision feels unexpectedly difficult, due to even incidental reasons, people may draw the reverse inference that it is also important and consequently increase the amount of time and effort they expend. Ironically, this process is particularly likely for decisions that initially seemed unimportant because people expect them to be easier (whereas important decisions are expected to be difficult to begin with). Our studies demonstrate that unexpected difficulty not only causes people to get caught up in unimportant decisions but also to voluntarily seek more options, which can increase decision difficulty even further.
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