Much of what we learn in life is based on the outcome of the decisions we make. Our success and happiness in life very much hinges on how we react to and understand our decisions. Do we make snap decisions? Do we consider all possible outcomes? When something goes right or wrong do we try to figure out why? Decisions are a big deal and we don’t talk about them nearly enough.

Our parents are supposed to teach us about good decision making. Instilling morals helps make decisions. I knew from a very young age that there were repercussions to taking something that isn’t mine. But as we progress through childhood not much is done in terms of helping teach people how to make decisions. Some benefit from having adults that help them. But many children don’t have help in making decisions. Some children make bad decisions and only learn how to avoid bad consequences. Parents and teachers that are involved are more focused on teaching whatever it is that’s needed to be successful in life as defined by what they think that is. Usually that means going to college or something.

But even in college very little is done in teaching people how to make decisions. We make decisions, but we don’t talk about the process of doing it. Our brains make decisions for us quickly and subconsciously, but only rarely do people actually walk through the decision making process. No one puts everything on a white board before making a decision. They just go with what’s in the head. There are some schools that teach decision making. Business schools that use the “case method” are very much attuned to the art of decision making. Students read cases where a business or organization is faced with a decision and over the course of a class or two the class talks it out. They weigh the options and risks, and make a decision. But not everyone goes to business school and there’s no direct proof that these students make better decisions.

That proof may be closer than we think though. See the following study (emphasis mine):

Decision making is rarely taught in high school, even though improved decision skills could benefit young people facing life-shaping decisions. While decision competence has been shown to correlate with better life outcomes, few interventions designed to improve decision skills have been evaluated with rigorous quantitative measures. A randomized study showed that integrating decision making into U.S. history instruction improved students’ history knowledge and decision-making competence, compared to traditional history instruction. Thus, integrating decision training enhanced academic performance and improved an important, general life skill associated with improved life outcomes. 

In a high school somewhere on the west coast certain teachers were told to integrate a decision making curriculum into their history class. Instead of memorizing dates and events, students looked at the decisions historical figures had to make. Bombing Hiroshima is a great example. When I was in school I learned we did it and that was that. It was an event. We did not look at the perspective of those that made the decision. What were the factors? The short version was that the US and its allies were probably going to have to invade Japan and even more people would have died. We’ll never know what would have happened. But in school, even in college, we never discussed the decision making process behind those events.

These students did (though perhaps not with Hiroshima). And compared to a control that received no decision making curriculum the students in the test group tested better on both the subject and decision making. That is, they learned more and learned how to make better decisions.

This was a study funded by an organization that supports decision education so a bias is possible. However in the academic community we look to see these results replicated a few times in similar studies before acting on anything. On this blog we talk a lot about decisions but even here we don’t talk about the process enough.

By learning how to be better “deciders” we can all better ourselves. By teaching our children how to make better decisions, we can fix a number of problems at the source.

Image: missbakersflickr

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categories: education, psychology