How People Make Decisions and Take Action

How People Make Decisions and Take Action

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0152-9.ch013


The earlier chapters of this book have looked at how people interact with and interpret information. This chapter looks at the factors that influence how people use that information to make a decision. In the end, effective communication depends on people doing something with the information; a decision needs to be made and actions taken. Those decisions and actions feed back into the overall situation, which modifies the available information. People then interpret the changes and makes more decisions, even if the decision is that everything is ok and no further actions are required (Figure 1).
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Executives do not need help with decision making; they need help with gathering information—Tom Murray

The old school of software interface design and document writing took the view that if people could find the information somewhere within the system or manual, then they could use it for decision making and the design requirements had been met (Albers, 1996). But simply ensuring that all the information is available ignores how people process information to make a decision., Orasanu and Connolly (1993) discuss how, while research typically looks at decision making in isolation, in reality decision making occurs as part of larger tasks and is only a single part of achieving a larger goal of interacting with a situation. They place decisions within a cycle which “consist[s] of defining what the problem is, understanding what a reasonable solution would look like, taking action to reach that goal, and evaluating the effects of that action” (p. 6). As Figure 1 shows, decision making is a part of a long cycle of collecting information from the situation, integrating it into prior knowledge, making choices and actions, and monitoring the results.

Figure 1.

How people make decisions

Decisions within an HII context never exist in isolation, but are embedded in the larger tasks that the decision maker is trying to accomplish. Laboratory-based decision research in the laboratory tends to require decisions apart from any meaningful context. In natural settings, making a decision is not an end in itself but, rather, a means to achieving a broader goal. Hollnagel (1993) places decision making neatly into context.

Work in a natural environment requires a mixture of skilled actions, established routines or procedures, and more or less complex decisions. Here decisions occur as a natural part of the way in which the situation develops or as part of a context. Decision making is only one of several activities that the operator must carry out, and decisions are made whenever the situation requires it. This means that the natural decision making is prepared, that the context and the conditions are known, and that the decision is integrated in the overall pattern of activities. The need to make a decision is not suddenly forced upon the operator, but can be anticipated and fitted into the natural flow of work. (p. 32)

The main areas covered in this chapter are:

  • Models of decision making: Describes the classical decision making model and recognition primed model of decision making.

  • How people make situation-specific decisions: Describes the strategies that people use to interpret information and make predictions about the future development of the situation based on hypothetical decisions. It also considers how the way information is presented and framed has a significant effect on how people understand a situation and the decisions they make.

  • Decision-making influences and biases: Describes the various factors that exert an influence on how people reach decisions and how those factors can result in sub-optimal or incorrect decisions.

  • Problem solving: Decisions often get make using known strategies and a situation fitting expectation; problem solving occurs when a situation does not conform to expectations.

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