Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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December 31st, 2010

Can Delay Be a Virtue?


delayvirtue-flashHow much does this statement describe you?

“I usually make decisions as soon as possible.”

Is that extremely or moderately characteristic of your behavior? Or extremely or moderately uncharacteristic of your behavior?

If you delay on making decisions, you’ll get points toward a higher procrastination score on the Lay Procrastination inventory (PDF). But according to a new study, procrastinating on a decision might not be such a bad thing… in certain circumstances.

According to a series of experiments recently published in Psychological Science, when participants were given two choices-a default choice and an alternative-82% opted for the default when making the choice immediately, but when delayed this dropped to 56%.

Summarizes PsyBlog

And so the answer to whether delaying a choice leads to a better decision is: it depends what the default decisions is. When the default is better, the decision will be worse; whereas if the alternative is better, it will be an improvement.

So if (to borrow a scenario from last year’s final season of “24”, which I watched in its entirety for some unknown reason, if President Taylor had been given a bit more time to ponder her decision to cover up Russian plots, perhaps she would have deviated from the default position of smoothing things over and taken the alternative position of a moral and just stand.

But if we take a more pedestrian example, it gets a bit more perplexing: Let’s say the default option is to sit on the couch and watch another rerun of “Law & Order,” and the alternative is to go to the gym. The longer you delay making the decision, the more likely you are to go to the gym? Not in my house.

If you delay making a decision about whether this study makes sense, is that the default or the alternative?

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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