Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Emotional Resilience, Decisions and making good Judgements

Over on the Neuroanthropology site there is a blog I have been meaning to comment on for a month about emotions and decision making. Now whilst the actual blog is a critique of three studies on decision making and emotions from a neuroanthropological methods perspective it does make interesting reading from our point of view.
I don't intend to replicate the blog as it is examining a series of methodological issues and you can read it yourself here.

However I will comment on the three findings from a practical decision making perspective and how people deal with risk and ambiguity.

  1. The first study it reports on shows that sad people "spend more money to acquire the same commodities than those in a neutral emotional state.”
  2. The second is about trader behaviour and risk and concludes "that traders who let their emotions get the best of them tend to fare poorly in the markets. But traders who rely on logic alone don’t do that well either. The most successful ones use their emotions to their advantage without letting the feelings overwhelm them.”
  3. "Studies have shown that adolescents are very well aware of their vulnerability and that they actually overestimate their risk of suffering negative effects from activities like drinking and unprotected sex…" ‘It now becomes clearer why traditional intervention programs fail to help many teenagers,’ Dr. Valerie Reyna and Dr. Frank Farley wrote. ‘Although the programs stress the importance of accurate risk perception, young people already feel vulnerable and overestimate their risks.’ In Dr. Reyna’s view, inundating teenagers with factual risk information could backfire, leading them to realize that behaviors like unprotected sex are less risky than they thought. Using an analytical approach of weighing risks versus benefits is ‘a slippery slope that all too often results in teens’ thinking that the benefits outweigh the risks,’ she said.
The points I want to make about these findings are these (somewhat different to the original blog):
  1. The first (and simple) point I would make here is that each of these findings point to the importance of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience in decision making, especially when there is risk or ambiguity involved.
  2. My second point is that it is impossible to have a wholly analytical approach without our emotions and beliefs being involved, none of us are robots devoid of such influences. Therefore it is vital that we understand our own individual biases and emotional triggers and can either incorporate them into our thinking or act to mitigate their effects.
  3. That analytical approaches (the last study) to decision making can in certain situations exacerbate the problem and make the decision less effective, compared to an emotional or gut based one. What is happening in this particular case is that the fear of the risk prevents risky behaviour. When analysed the real risks became apparent (“The risk of pregnancy from a single act of unprotected sex is quite small, perhaps one chance in 12, and the risk of contracting H.I.V., about one in 500, is very much smaller than that") and therefore leads to more risk taking. This can also work in a positive direction. A very personal example I would quote here was when, many years ago I was in the Army learning to make parachute jumps. The analytical approach helped to move me past my fears - (terror actually) and walk out of a perfectly workable aircraft and plummet to earth, my life relying on a bit of silk and some string. One was considered to be a good result and the other judged to be not so good.
In summary making good decisions and solving problems well, is more than just collecting and analysing data. Judgement is a very large part of such activities. A big part of making good judgements is emotional resilience and intelligence.

This leads me to a question; How is judgement making developed in our leaders?

I'll leave this for another blog at another time as there are some concrete things that can help people to make better judgements.

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