By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

In mediations, clients are faced with important decisions throughout the day  — what move to make, what response to have, and what to have as the bottom line?  Many times, you will see a person who can normally make good decisions but is paralyzed in the mediation.  Why?  Well recent research demonstrates what we may have already believed: that cognitive stress can substantially affect a logical approach to decision making.

Psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O’Brien of Bangor University in the United Kingdom wanted to investigate how cognitive stress affects rational decision making. Their findings were reported in the current issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.  The study reveals that distractions and other stressors significantly impact decision making. When volunteers were not distracted or under stress, they tended to excel at making decisions that had been highly predictive of either winning or losing outcomes. However, when they were distracted, they were not as effective in making appropriate decisions.

authors note that when we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are “more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to overlook information predicting negative outcomes.” In other words, these findings indicate that irrational biases, which favor previous rewards, may guide our behavior during times of stress.

The implication is that in mediation people might revert to decision making that they previously found to be effective rather than based upon fact or information.  Further as noted above the decision is biased towards favorable outcomes.  As such, it is important to make sure that the decision you are helping the party make be considered as positive as possible in order to factor in the bias of decision making when under stress.

Adapted from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

Association for Psychological Science (2009, September 16). Under Pressure: The Impact Of Stress On Decision Making.

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