What is Decision Making In Behavioral Science?

What is Decision Making

Decision making, within the context of Behavioral Science and Applied Behavioral Science, refers to the cognitive process that leads to making judgments, choices or selecting between alternate possibilities or options. The process of decision making may be rational or irrational and is influenced by various cognitive biases, values, norms, and subjective preferences.


Decision making is a crucial aspect of human behavior and is a central topic in behavioral science. The study of decision making ranges from understanding individual cognitive processes to group decision making in organizations. Understanding how humans make decisions is central to predicting behavior, influencing choices, and designing strategies to improve decision-making outcomes.

Types of Decision Making

  • Rational Decision Making

    Rational decision making entails a structured or logical approach to the decision-making process. It involves identifying a decision problem, generating possible solutions, evaluating those solutions, and choosing the best one. This type of decision making relies significantly on logical reasoning, critical thinking, and quantitative analysis.

  • Intuitive Decision Making

    Intuitive decision making involves instantaneous decisions that are based on intuition or ‘gut feeling’. These decisions are less structured and rely to a larger extent on subconscious information, personal judgments, or experiences. Although intuitive decision-making may be less systematic, it can be highly effective, particularly in situations of ambiguity or insufficient information.

  • Biased Decision Making

    This type of decision making involves decisions that are influenced by cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking that can affect the judgments and decisions individuals make. For example, confirmation bias is a cognitive bias where individuals tend to seek out and favor information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or values.

Importance of Decision Making in Behavioral Science

In Behavioral Science, understanding decision-making processes is key to predicting and influencing human behavior. Through understanding how decisions are made, interventions can be designed to encourage better decision making, especially in critical areas such as health, education, and financial planning. For example, insights from behavioral science have been used to design interventions to promote healthier eating choices, encourage savings and investment behavior, and improve educational outcomes.

Decision Making and Behavioral Design

In the field of Behavioral Design, understanding decision-making processes forms the core. Behavioral design seeks to influence behavior by designing environments, products, systems or services that align with how people make decisions. For example, by understanding that people often choose default options (a decision-making bias known as ‘default effect’), a behavioral designer could design a system where the default options are the most beneficial or desired outcomes.

Notable Models and Theories in Decision Making

  • Expected Utility Theory

    This economic theory suggests that when making decisions under uncertainty, people choose the option that maximizes their expected utility – the sum of the utilities associated with all possible outcomes, weighted by the probability that each outcome will occur.

  • Prospect Theory

    Developed by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, Prospect Theory is a behavioral economic theory that describes how people decide between probabilistic alternatives that involve risk. The theory suggests that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics.

Limitations of Decision Making

While rational decision-making models suggest that people should always strive for objectively optimal decisions, in practice, this is often not the case. Individuals often have limited cognitive resources, limited information, and are influenced by a variety of cognitive biases that can lead to less than optimal decisions. Thus, decision making as a human process is inevitably limited and subject to error.

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