08/21/11 272 W - + 2 - 6 Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?

Among the articles available for your Sunday morning reading is this compelling piece from the New York Times. What the heck is "decision fatigure?" That's a new discovery by social psychologists that's found that people have finite stores of mental energy for making decisions. And as that energy drops, the ability to make decisions is effected. Interesting stuff. Makes you think about thinking. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite. Now decide if you want to read the thing...

"Virtually no one has a gut-level sense of just how tiring it is to decide. Big decisions, small decisions, they all add up. Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend — these all deplete willpower, and there’s no telltale symptom of when that willpower is low. It’s not like getting winded or hitting the wall during a marathon. Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful (and alcohol causes self-control to decline further). Like those dogs in the experiment, ego-depleted humans become more likely to get into needless fights over turf. In making decisions, they take illogical shortcuts and tend to favor short-term gains and delayed costs. Like the depleted parole judges [cited in the article], they become inclined to take the safer, easier option even when that option hurts someone else."

Fascinating and very relative to the fire service. I will read more… On the surface, I agree. I would love to see the correlation between “ego depletion” and shear “self actualization” of sorts to matters or subjects relative to one’s own decision making interests. Maybe it appears as wisdom on the surface when it is simple apathy or even anxiety… Which trait prevails more often? For example: “Why does the older, more mature leader of the FD make such an absolute or seemingly rash decision?” One could easily assume it is simply “old age” and the diminished capability to tolerate BS! It is indeed more complicated.
A.C. Rich - 08/21/11 - 09:55

It is quite fascinating, AC.

Does a chief officer perform better at decision making on scene at night, if he hasn’t spent the day using that energy for administrative tasks? For example.

Wonder was research for responders has been done? The fire service works hard hard hard to build and maintain physical strength. What about mental strength?
Legeros - 08/21/11 - 10:03

(In my opinion) I believe this condition appears as two facets: (#1) your individual disposition for decision making stamina due to “experience” and “exposure,” and (#2) [the intent of the article] where decisions are more accurate when made “early.” For example, and with an seeming inverse correlation effect… if you are a candidate in an assessment center, you will potentially be assessed more thoroughly if you are scheduled first, or in the first day. The assessors will be much more detailed in their comments of your performance. However the candidates that appear later (let’s say the middle of the second day) will potentially be assessed more lenient due to this fatigue phenomena; AND potentially receive a better resulting score.

As for mental strength and the maintenance of consistency, I believe we as a “fire society” don’t do justice to our fire service leaders by training them (or more especially challenging them) in the higher levels of decision making to develop and maintain skills (mental strength). Indeed, fire ground safety comes into perspective when the decisions are potentially more lax.
A.C. Rich - 08/21/11 - 10:53

Now we know why its so hard to decide on meals.
Jake - 08/21/11 - 15:19

To a lesser extent, yes!!
A.C. Rich - 08/21/11 - 18:21

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