Decision fatigue a crippler

Anny Chih photo

By Anny Chih, 24 hours Vancouver

Be rested when making decisions. (FOTOLIA)

Be rested when making decisions. (FOTOLIA)

Even on days without multiple-choice exams, students make thousands of decisions every day which can quickly lead to decision fatigue – a state in which people are more likely to make impulsive decisions or avoid making any decision at all as a result of tiredness from choosing too much.


The concept of decision fatigue was popularized in 2011 when an article in The New York Times highlighted a study showing that a parole board’s decisions were more likely to be influenced by the time of day an appeal was heard than the details of the crime committed. Judges were found to be more lenient towards prisoners when their cases were heard at the start of the day or just after a lunch break than if they were heard in late afternoon because judges, like all other people, tire after making back-to-back decisions.

While the decisions students face on a daily basis may be innocuous in comparison, the accumulation of small choices between things like new and used textbooks can impact larger decisions such as which courses to enrol in, and decision fatigue can affect grades when experienced during exams or while completing assignments.

The adverse effects of incessant decision making can be mitigated by prioritizing important decisions and tasks. For example, by making important choices and completing class assignments at the start of the day before fatigue sets in students can ensure that critical tasks are done during peak mental states.

Eating throughout the day is another way to reduce the effects of decision fatigue. Dr. Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University, conducted studies on decision making and found a strong link between self-regulation and blood glucose levels; people are less likely to exert self-control in decision making when they are low on energy. By eating regularly, students can maintain energy reserves to support their decision-making abilities.

Technology has also adapted to support the influx of choices presented each day with time-saving apps like If This Then That (IFTTT). The IFTTT app allows a user to reduce efforts required in making decisions by searching sites like Craigslist and sending notifications only when new ads matching specific criteria are posted.


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