Distractions may hinder rational decision making

Psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O'Brien of Bangor University in Britain wanted to investigate how distractions affect rational decision making. They noted that when we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are "more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to overlook information predicting negative outcomes".

In other words, these findings indicate that irrational biases, which favour previous rewards, may guide our behaviour during times of stress. Study participants played a simple gambling game in which they earned money by deciding between two pictures of different faces. Once their selection was made, it was immediately clear if they had won, lost, or broken even. Each face was always associated with the same outcome throughout this task.

Volunteers then were shown each face individually and had to indicate whether they had seen those faces before. Sometimes volunteers were distracted during this task while other times they were not. When volunteers were not distracted, they tended to excel at recognising faces that had been highly predictive of either winning or losing outcomes.
However, when they were distracted, they only recognised faces that had been associated with winning. These findings were published in Psychological Science.

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