How does human decision-making work, and where does critical thinking fit?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Decision-making, a complex mental process involving many elements—the gathering of data, the weighing of the legitimacy and validity of the information, determining if more information is needed, the assessment of one’s goals (both immediate goals from the decision-making process, and life-goals), the recording and recalling of past decisions, the specific state of one’s thinking capacities at the moment of decision-making, etc.—can be divided into two mental processes: the emotional response to the world, and the logic or reasoning capacity of the decision-maker.  Arguably, the emotional part of a decision makes its case first, because emotional responses are immediate, and enter in the “equation” at the moment the decision possibilities are expressed.  Then the logical, evidence-weighing parts of the decision-making process come into action.


Example:  deciding which horse to bet on in the Kentucky Derby.  First step: the conscious or unconscious statement of the desire outcome:  money, bragging rights, etc.  Next, looking at the names of the entries.  An emotional response comes first:  Lucky Lady, Jim’s Last Chance, Good Boy, Slow Learner, etc.—each name brings up some sort of positive or negative emotional response,-- personal (“my favorite uncle is named Jim”), connotative (“If he’s a slow learner, he’s a slow horse”), etc.  But then logic and reason step in, and all the other factors are weighed and evaluated for relevance and strength—weight, trainer, jockey, etc.  The horse’s history comes into play next –previous win record, length of race, etc. (this is where research comes in, in the Racing Form ).  Opinions of experts, gossip, the horse’s physical appearance (both emotional and logical factors come in here), all are assessed.  The decision-making process is complete when all logical evidence and all emotional responses have been factored in. (Some persons are better than others at assessing emotional factors.)  This process is valid in any decision-making process, but sometimes occurs ex post facto: the decision-maker has already made the decision, but then tries to justify it to himself or others by pretending to weight the factors, as though reason and logic made the decision.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team