Decision-making can be defined as the cognitive process of reaching a judgement, opinion or choosing an option or course of action among multiple alternative possibilities. How we make decisions depends on multiple factors surrounding the decision – such as if we feel we need to make a decision quickly, the task is complex, how feasible the different options are and importantly the level of resources and support available to us.
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize-winning psychologist and economist who specialises in decision making. Kahneman describes two systems of thinking:
- System 1: automatic thinking
This is fast, frequent involuntary thinking which provides suggestions. New information is associated with pre-existing patterns or thoughts, rather than generating a new pattern or 'mental model'. These first impressions are the most likely thing you will follow, and this can lead to error due to cognitive biases.
- System 2: deliberate thinking
Conversely, Dr Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist who studies how people make decisions in time-pressured, risky and dynamic working environments, such as aviation, emergency services and acute medicine. Klein has led the way in a new approach to decision making research called naturalistic decision-making (NDM).
A simplified model of decision-making can be described by firstly identifying the situation or problem and then making a decision (what should I do?). A simplified model based on the naturalistic decision-making approach can be seen below.
The feedback we receive after implementing a decision will then influence our situational assessment if the scenario arises again.
Flin R, O’Connor P, Crichton M. Safety at the Sharp End: A Guide to Non-technical Skills. New York: CRC Press; 2008.