Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, decisions, decisions are something that we all have to worry over, but are we managers or are we worker bees and does that make a difference? The lore in the literature cozies up to a dual process theory. This suggests that we are either heuristic or deeply contemplative.

When we get a large team of psychologists, neuroscientists and business schoolies together there will be experiments and experiments are what we have. Caspers et al in the latest edition from the Public Library of Science have corralled a group of experienced managers and a similar size group of workers with no management responsibilities and stuffed them one at a time in the big magnet while making them make decisions under stress (1).

There were 35 of each managerial or non-managerial persuasion in their 40’s with an even split between the sexes who were give a large number of word pairs to make decisions about which they favored while coping with the trauma of a prolonged fMRI study. They were given about a second to make a decision and press a button with their right or left hand depending on which word they preferred. They had to do this for 540 decisions.

The aim of the experimental program was to see if the same parts of the brains were being lit up whether the subject was a manager or a non-manager. With managers the head of the caudate nucleus deep in the center of the brain was activated with less response within the cortex. The opposite picture showed up for the non-managers.

What does this mean? The managers are using intuition, memory, gut instinct – that is they are heuristically inclined. The non-managers are being more thoughtful, contemplative considering carefully, at least as thoughtfully as you can when under considerable time stress. So it appears that managers shrug off the stress and just go for it, while the worker bees worry about decisions, decisions, decisions.

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