Decision Time

November 28, 2001

When faced with a decision, big or small, how can you be sure you’re making a smart choice? The strategy may depend on what type of decision is being made.

When you’re debating a purchase, like that new leo you’ve had your eye on for class, a University of Pennsylvania study found that focusing on your breathing for a few minutes before moving on to the checkout counter can keep you from splurging on something you might not actually want that badly. We tend to overestimate how much we’ll regret not buying something, making us more likely to buy impulsively. Focusing on the breath could help you tone down these natural tendencies.

What if the decision is about something more emotional, like figuring out how to react after a disagreement with your dance partner at rehearsal? A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that dimming the lights could be a useful trick. The idea is that brighter lighting will subconsciously make you feel warm and higher temperatures will intensify your initial reactions, making you more likely to judge based on the anger you feel in the heat of the moment, rather than talking it out with your friend calmly.