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ninjacolin's avatar

What makes one decision more preferable than another? What constitutes preference?

Asked by ninjacolin (14206points) January 9th, 2011

And I’m asking for both the technical answers and theoretical answers about decision making. What are your thoughts?

If you could take a trip to any European country, why will you choose one over the other in cases where neither country will be unpleasant or demonstrably less rewarding than the one you do choose?

Or maybe that’s a bogus and leading question.. Is one option always “better” in some perceived way than the other options you forsake?

Can you imagine two options that you absolutely could not choose between?

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18 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Well, the example of the two countries is not too good. There are always differences in climate and culture and in your associations with the countries.

If there are two options that I can’t choose between, I flip a coin, but usually that’s not the case.

vocalthoughts's avatar

I’d say the decision for one over the other would come from the premeditated outcomes which could possibly arise from said decision.. I mean, If I envision myself having a better time in one country over another simply off of personal preferences & tastes then I’m more likely opt for that country over the other..

ninjacolin's avatar

i’m gonna nip this in the bud right away.. if your answer says: “you will decide based on personal preferences” then you haven’t answered the question. :)

The question is.. what constitutes preference?
maybe i’ll edit that above

downtide's avatar

If all else is exactly equal then there would be absolutely no difference at all between the two choices so it makes no difference which I choose. I could toss a coin and have an identical experience no matter which one I picked. But if the two options are not identical there must be some difference on which I can base a preference.

vocalthoughts's avatar

Good thing my answer was “premeditated outcomes” then.

BarnacleBill's avatar

What makes one choice preferable has to do with personal preference. Aside from the attributes of the thing itself, there are preference factors that have nothing to do with the attributes. Or there are circumstantial considerations that need to be factored in.

Using your travel example, assume that you win a 2 week trip to any one country in Europe. If you have never been abroad, and would like to travel, then all choices are equal, because if the prize was a trip to a single named country, you would be thrilled to win that. So how do you choose? You might first filter by language—do you speak the language of that country? If you didn’t, how difficult would travel be? Is your family heritage aligned with any one country? Does one country have cultural advantages that are aligned with your personal preferences?

ninjacolin's avatar

A technical answer attempt, then.. decisions are made by the “weight” of your convictions about the benefits of one course of action over another?

Weight is a good term.. i wonder if there’s a more precise way to describe what happens.

janbb's avatar

Are you asking if there area objective rather than subjective factors in decision making? Your question isn’t clear to me.

ninjacolin's avatar

it’s not a “rather” kind of question at all.
it’s a “what is” kind of question; a dissection.

what do “Subjective factors” look like. What gives a factor weight/power/pull/gravity?
Maybe even share some anecdotes.. a story about how a difficult decision was made?

janbb's avatar

Well, for me, I am often balancing issues of comfort versus risk, or to put it another way, safety versus growth. Eventually the scale will be tipped in one or the other direction, but it is often a muddle in my mind til a solution emerges.

ninjacolin's avatar

what will cause the tipping? a certain level of comfort about the premeditated outcome?

janbb's avatar

I suppose which need is uppermost in my mind at the time of the decision-making – safety or growth. If I am in a relatively strong state, I will go for growth; if I am feeling more vulnerable, safety will prevail.

ninjacolin's avatar

okay :)

A) i feel vulnerable, so I’m going to take the safe route.
or
B) I feel strong, so I’m going for growth.

What i’m looking for is the common denominator between these two things. What do either of those decisions give you as a result?

janbb's avatar

No common denominator. With the “safety” choice, I feel safe but a wimp. With the “growth” choice, I feel excited but worried.

ninjacolin's avatar

Well, in both cases you seem to be satisfying your most intense feelings about a matter. Your preference seems to be for whatever brings your feelings back into equilibrium..

Exactly what kind of equilibrium? I don’t know.. yet..

wundayatta's avatar

The trick with making choices is to decide the criteria upon which the choice will be made. If you can do this, it makes decision-making a lot easier. It also makes things like negotiations easier. If both parties, or all the parties involved can state the criteria that they have for making decisions, you can then actually measure the advantages of one choice over the other.

I want to go to Either the Czech Republic or to Hungary. What are my criteria for deciding? One could be the quality of accommodations and food. Another might be the interest of the history. Another could be availability of boat tours, or mountain hiking opportunities. Once you’ve got your criteria down, you can evaluate each destination based on those criteria and see how they come out. If you have enough criteria, they will never come out even.

Most people probably don’t know the criteria they are using to make a decision. It’s a more intuitive process. People say “personal preferences,” but they do not think specifically about what those preferences are based on.

Sometimes you look at all your criteria and one choice is better on some, and the other choice is better on others, and you still can’t decide. Then you might just go with a hunch or a feeling or you might flip a coin because really, either choice will be fine with you.

I suppose you might ask where the criteria come from. We could get back to personal preferences, but those aren’t the road block they might seem to be. Most preferences come from a lifetime of choices and activities. Maybe food is important to you, or physical activities are more important. In either case these are things you’ve been doing all your life, so they are preferences based on a history.

It’s generally a complex calculus based on a person’s experience, knowledge and decision-making skills. It can be so complex that it might not be possible to parse out the criteria the decision was based on. Or a person may not be all that self-aware, and so they can’t really identify what they are thinking about when them make a choice. They just do it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I generally don’t agonize over decisions and choices because I usually know which one is the right one, it’s the one that gives my tummy butterflies less issues.

liminal's avatar

It seems to me decision-making is rooted in ethics. Ethics being a critical assessment of morals. Thus, in personal decision-making one is ethically, to use your word, weighing the morality of the situation. (I would define morals as the construction of values, beliefs, and practices that order one’s life.) Our morality is often held so deeply we don’t see it until it is challenged. For example, I don’t ponder whether to treat my child with gentleness. I only become aware of this as a deeply held value when my child is treated roughly.

Often in decision-making conflicting morals are stirred and it is the work of ethics to decide which moral will endure and which will adapt. For example, in the USA, children are often raised to both obey their parents and be autonomous, self-directed, individuals. It is not always clear which directive applies when. I think of my son learning to use a watch and being told to be home by a certain time. He daily seems to struggle with “mom said be home by 4:30, but I only need 5 minutes to finish what I am doing.” Start throwing in the morals “be happy” and “avoid negative consequences” and things really start getting confusing for the poor guy.

It is hard for me to imagine two options that I couldn’t choose between except for an extreme circumstance such as having to choose which of my children should live. I imagine being frozen still by such a choice.

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