The Psychology Behind Why We Make Irrational Decisions

Have you ever made an irrational decision? You might laugh as you think about it, because everyone has at least once in their life. At the time, you might have thought it was the right or best decision, even if there was no “scientific” or statistical basis for it. 

Sometimes, you can look back at irrational decisions and see the humor in your mistakes. Other times, however, those decisions can leave lasting negative consequences. 

So why do we make irrational decisions? Why are some solutions so fueled with passion that we don’t necessarily think them through beforehand? 

You might be surprised to know there is some psychology involved with the way we make decisions—even irrational ones. But what does it mean, and why is it important? 

The Study of Heuristics

Some research has pointed to heuristics in irrational decision-making. The heuristic technique is a specific approach to problem-solving or decision-making. Instead of focusing on things like long-term results or studying the science/facts behind something, it allows people to make decisions that seem practical for the moment. 

Usually, the decisions are made based on things like past experiences, personal beliefs, or even something as simple as intuition. 

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This method of decision-making tends to bring more immediate results. If you have a goal you’re trying to reach right away, making a decision using this method can help you reach it. 

Many people think of heuristics as “mental shortcuts.” Using this method is a way to get what you want without necessarily thinking it through. Have you ever made a decision using an “educated guess” or trial and error? If so, you’ve used heuristics. 

What’s the Problem with Heuristics? 

While using a heuristic technique to make decisions might get you what you want quickly, the problem is that things may not stay that way. 

There are different types of heuristics that can impact your decision-making process. For example, making a snap judgment about someone upon first meeting them because they have a particular job you don’t like is a heuristic way of thinking. Sticking with old habits and patterns to remain consistent even though there’s a better way to do things is another example. 

A heuristic approach allows you to make decisions without doing the thinking or research that may be necessary. As a result, some of those decisions could be viewed as irrational. 

Making Rational vs. Irrational Decisions

Consider your thought process when you make a rational decision. If something is incredibly important to you, a rational decision process might include things like researching, looking up facts and figures, asking other people for their opinions and thoughts, and giving the decision itself more than a few minutes of thought before offering an answer. 

Irrational decisions are almost always made in the opposite fashion. You come to a conclusion quickly, and typically without a lot of deep thought. 

Now that you understand some of the psychology behind those decisions, try to take a step back whenever you’re faced with a choice. Think about your initial reaction, and whether it’s based on heuristics. If it is, it’s almost always worth reconsidering until you’re able to think things through and get all the information necessary to make a more informed, rational decision. 

If you want to learn more about the psychology behind irrational decisions, feel free to contact Integrative Psychotherapy Group. It’s not necessarily an easy habit to break. But, by understanding more of the science behind it, you can focus more on rational choices and letting go of past methods that don’t offer quality long-term results.