Second-guessing yourself leads to worse decisions, scientists find

People who second-guess themselves tend to make worse decisions than those who trust their gut, research suggests.  

Scientists analysed the betting habits of 150 online gamblers and found those who who stuck to their guns were correct a fifth more than those who changed their mind.

The researchers say their findings would apply in any situation where people have to make educated guesses about the future.

They speculate that over-analysing situations confuses the mind and stops people from thinking clearly.

People who second-guess themselves tend to make worse decisions than those who trust their gut, research suggests (stock)

People who second-guess themselves tend to make worse decisions than those who trust their gut, research suggests (stock)

People who second-guess themselves tend to make worse decisions than those who trust their gut, research suggests (stock)

The study was led by a trio of British economists from the University of Reading and University of East Anglia.

WHAT ARE ‘GUT FEELINGS’?

Gut feelings are mysterious signals from our gastrointestinal tract that impact our emotions and decisions.

The GI tract is more than 100 times larger than the surface of the skin, and it sends more signals to the brain than any other organ system in the body. 

It talks to the brain via the vagus or ‘wandering’ nerve, a super highway of nervous signalling that snakes up the body from organ to organ.

The nerve carries top-down messages from the brain to the body as well as bottom-up messages commonly described as ‘gut feelings’.

While it’s clear there’s a lot of communication between the brain and gut, scientists have struggled to determine how much these feelings affect our decision making.

Recent research suggests the signals are part of an elaborate protective system that prompts us to slow down and evaluate a situation, or avoid it completely.

They drew on data from the Superbru Premier League Predictor Game – an online betting website where players guess the scores in English top tier football games.

A total of 57,000 individual predictions spanning 380 football games in the English Premier League during the 2017/18 season were analysed.

Users made initial score predictions days, or even weeks, in advance and were able to were allowed to revise them up until the match started.

The researchers presumed that revised scores would be more accurate that unchanged ones.

This is because gamblers normally change their mind after news of an injury to a star player, or doing further research about the team.

But analysis showed those who changed their prediction only got the score right 7.7 per cent of the time. 

By comparison, players who stuck to their gut instinct were correct 9.3 per cent of the time. 

This means that revised predictions were about 17 per cent less accurate than those that had never changed. 

The researchers note that revisions to original predictions were infrequent, with players only changing their mind one in 25 times. 

The findings are published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.

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