The Key to Better Decision Making

When it comes to advice, you’ve probably given some useful ideas and insight to your friends, relatives co-workers . . . lots of people. But when it comes to making decisions for yourself, maybe ask someone else.

A study published in Psychological Science has found that people aren’t so wise when it comes to solving their own problems compared to solving other people’s problems—but with a little trick, they can improve their situation.

Researchers had 100 people, all of whom were in long-term relationships, to either imagine that they’d been cheated on or imagine that their best friend had been cheated on. Then, they were asked what the solution might be and given a questionnaire that measured “wise reasoning” skills, which are things like considering multiple perspectives, thinking about all the possible outcomes, or looking for a compromise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people thinking about what their best friend should do tended to answer with a little more wisdom than the people thinking about themselves.

Now for the trick. In a second experiment, researchers asked the same question: you’ve been cheated on. What do you do? Half the study volunteers answered using the first-person perspective (using words like I and me, e.g., “ask yourself: why am I feeling this way?”), and the rest did so in a third-person perspective—even though they were talking about themselves.

As it happens, people using third person showed better judgement (doing things like looking at the issue from multiple perspectives, considering multiple outcomes) than the people using first person perspective. So, the next time you’re thinking through a problem and don’t feel like phoning a friend, maybe just talk through the problem like you’re someone else. Hey, can’t hurt, right?


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