Thursday, October 23, 2014

Losing a Win-Win situation

This research resonated with me more than I would like to admit.  They looked at what happens when you have to decide between a set of options that are all good.  In theory, you win either way.  So you should take the best one and be happy.

But it isn’t that simple.  It never is.  It turns out that two areas of the brain both get activated.  The pleasure area gets activated in anticipation of getting a reward.  Dopamine shots all around.  It doesn’t matter if you have two choices (easy to find the best one) or six choices (harder to find the best one)

But your anxiety area gets activated also.  It can’t help but be worried that you won’t pick the best choice (regardless of the fact that they are all positive) so it releases stress hormones.  And it releases more in the six choice condition than in the two choice condition. 

Then there was also a follow up study.  After the study was presumably over, they gave the participants the option to change their minds.  Electrical activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which signals conflict and indecision, was higher in people who changed their minds.  This indicates that even after they thought the study was over, some participants remained conflicted about the choice. 

They also found that participants who reported more anxiety in their daily lives were more likely to change their minds.  So anxiety is related to indecision, stress, and buyer’s remorse.  Every time you make a choice, even when it is all good, causes anxiety.  It can build up over time and cause long term anxiety and stress.

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