The More Information the Worse the Decision

24 Sep

A great article by Marty Kaplan at the link below in which he reviews recent decision research out of Yale. In summary the research concludes that when a person is confronted with data which goes against their beliefs they’ll simply ignore or alter the information to suit their beliefs (Kahan et al, 2013). With the vast amounts of data and information available at all levels of an organisation and society this might well pose a problem for the purity of data informed decision making.

Increasing information has proven in many tests to be detrimental to decision making, the Kahan study is one of the latest. Big data sets have added a new dimension to this, with so many correlations available you can “prove” whatever you like. You don’t have to just dismiss facts anymore, you can simply move onto some more which suit you better. There are many psychological drivers behind this, it’s quite instinctive, and it’s much easier to argue you’re right rather than wrong. So, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, what is the best way to utilise information effectively rather than with prejudice?

Information takes many forms- visual, auditory, statistical etc so one way to explore effective use of information is to look across to domains which are fast paced, constantly changing environments, saturated with data and require multiple decisions. Klien et al’s study of fire-fighters spring to mind, and being crudely simplistic, the fire-fighters made good decisions through highly sophisticated and rapid analysis. The quick lesson- when using data to make decisions imagine it’s a burning building, raise the stakes and ask yourself- what could go wrong here?

One Response to “The More Information the Worse the Decision”


  1. Prediction, Tolstoy and New Technology | Echo Breaker Research & Analysis - March 27, 2014

    […] In my mind, whether you were planning in the 1800s or you are in 2014, using technology for predictive purposes and making decisions off the back of these predictions is something to be approached cautiously. When you predict, especially with confidence, you expose yourself to fixation- the confirmation bias. This means that when decisions rested on confident predictions encounter the complexity of human behaviour and become contradicted, the investment (psychology, resources and time), in that initial plan and decision, cognitively pulls at you to avoid the loss of that investment. The consequences of this is loss aversion ( resulting in the explaining away of contradictory data, fixating on the initial decision. So more data can actually accentuate biases by increasing subjective self confidence ( […]

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