We have a tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information we hear when making decisions. One study asked two groups of participants about Gandhi’s age when he died, and found the answers were swayed depending on the “anchor” number in the question. If asked “Did he die before or after the age of 9?”, participants guessed an average of 50; asked “Did he die before or after the age of 140?”, the average was 67. Anchoring can provide helpful reference points during decision making, but it can subconsciously influence us to make poor decisions.
As you face more choices throughout the day, your ability to make thoughtful decisions diminishes and your brain starts to look for the easy way out—whether that’s making an impulsive decision or avoiding a decision altogether. One study found that judges are seven times more likely to grant parole in the morning than in the late afternoon; at the end of the day, it’s simpler to maintain the status quo than think through another case. So, next time you need to make a big decision, make sure to consider the “when” as much as the “what.”
We rely on a variety of factors to make decisions—but we’re influenced the most by moments or experiences that are personal, recent, or dramatic. A foundational study found that “availability” or ease of recall can impact our perception of the frequency and probability of an event. (For example, you might overestimate the probability of getting in a car crash after seeing an overturned car on the road.) This “availability bias” can skew our perception when making choices that require looking at the big picture, such as investing.