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Choice consists of the mental process
Mental function
Mental processes, mental functions and cognitive processes are terms often used interchangeably to mean such functions or processes as perception, introspection, memory, creativity, imagination, conception, belief, reasoning, volition, and emotion—in...

 of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them. While a choice can be made between imagined options ("what would I do if ...?"), often a choice is made between real options, and followed by the corresponding action. For example, a route for a journey is chosen based on the preference
-Definitions in different disciplines:The term “preferences” is used in a variety of related, but not identical, ways in the scientific literature. This makes it necessary to make explicit the sense in which the term is used in different social sciences....

 of arriving at a given destination as soon as possible. The preferred (and therefore chosen) route is then derived from information about how long each of the possible routes take. This can be done by a route planner. If the preference is more complex, such as involving the scenery of the route, cognition
In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science...

 and feeling
Feeling is the nominalization of the verb to feel. The word was first used in the English language to describe the physical sensation of touch through either experience or perception. The word is also used to describe experiences, other than the physical sensation of touch, such as "a feeling of...

 are more intertwined, and the choice is less easy to delegate to a computer program or assistant.

More complex examples (often decisions that affect what a person thinks or their core beliefs) include choosing a lifestyle, religious affiliation, or political position.

Most people regard having choices as a good thing, though a severely limited or artificially restricted choice can lead to discomfort with choosing and possibly, an unsatisfactory outcome. In contrast, unlimited choice may lead to confusion, regret of the alternatives not taken, and indifference in an unstructured existence; and the illusion that choosing an object or a course leads necessarily to control of that object or course can cause psychological problems.

Types of choices

There are four types of decisions, although they can be expressed in different ways. Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy is a self-help author and motivational speaker. He serves as Chairman of Brian Tracy International, a human resource company based in Solana Beach, California, with affiliates throughout the United States and thirty-one other countries.-Early life:After dropping out of school before...

, who often uses enumerated lists in his talks, breaks them down into:
  1. Command decisions, which can only be made by you, as the "Commander in Chief"; or owner of a company.
  2. Delegated decisions, which may be made by anyone, such as the color of the bike shed, and should be delegated, as the decision must be made but the choice is inconsequential.
  3. Avoided decisions, where the outcome could be so severe that the choice should not be made, as the consequences can not be recovered from if the wrong choice is made. This will most likely result in negative actions, such as death.
  4. "No-brainer" decisions, where the choice is so obvious that only one choice can reasonably be made.

A fifth type, however, or fourth if three and four are combined as one type, is the collaborative decision, which should be made in consultation with, and by agreement of others. Collaborative Decision Making revolutionized air-traffic safety by not deferring to the captain
Pilot in command
The pilot in command of an aircraft is the person aboard the aircraft who is ultimately responsible for its operation and safety during flight. This would be the "captain" in a typical two- or three-pilot flight crew, or "pilot" if there is only one certified and qualified pilot at the controls of...

 when a lesser crew member becomes aware of a problem.

Another way of looking at decisions focuses on the thought mechanism used, is the decision:
  • Rational
  • Intuitive
  • Recognition based
  • Combination

Recognizing that "type" is an imprecise term, an alternate way to classify types of choices is to look at outcomes and the impacted entity. For example, using this approach three types of choices would be:
  • Business
  • Personal
  • Consumer

In this approach, establishing the types of choices makes it possible to identify the related decisions that will influence and constrain a specific choice as well as be influenced and constrained by another choice.

There are many "executive decision maker" products available, such as the decision wheels and the Magic 8-Ball
Magic 8-ball
The Magic 8 Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, manufactured by Mattel.-Origin:While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, who was inspired by a "spirit writing" device used by his mother, Mary, a...

, which randomly produce yes/no or other "decisions" for someone who can not make up their mind or just wants to delegate.

A Ouija
The Ouija board also known as a spirit/fire key board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, the words "yes", "no", "hello" and "goodbye", and other symbols and words are sometimes also added to help personalize the board...

 board is also a delegated decision.

As a moral principle, decisions should be made by those most affected by the decision, but this is not normally applied to persons in jail, who might likely make a decision other than to remain in jail. Robert Gates
Robert Gates
Dr. Robert Michael Gates is a retired civil servant and university president who served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011. Prior to this, Gates served for 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under President George H. W....

 cited this principle in allowing photographs of returning war dead.

Choice and evaluability in economics

When choosing between options one must make judgments about the quality of each option's attributes. For example, if one is choosing between candidates for a job, the quality of relevant attributes such as previous work experience, college or high school GPA, and letters of recommendation will be judged for each option and the decision will likely be based on these attribute judgments. However, each attribute has a different level of evaluability, that is, the extent to which one can use information from that attribute to make a judgment.

An example of a highly evaluable attribute is SAT score. Everyone knows that an SAT score below 800 is very bad while an SAT score above 1500 is exceptionally good. Because the distribution of scores on this attribute is relatively well known it is a highly evaluable attribute. Compare SAT score to a poorly evaluable attribute, such as number of hours spent doing homework. Most employers would not know what 10,000 hours spent doing homework means because they have no idea of the distribution of scores of potential workers in the population on this attribute.

As a result, evaluability can cause preference reversals between joint and separate evaluations. For example, Hsee, George Loewenstein
George Loewenstein
George Loewenstein is the Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Social and Decision Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Center for Behavioral Decision Research. He is a leader in the fields of behavioural economics and...

, Blount & Bazerman (1999) looked at how people choose between options when they are directly compared because they are presented at the same time or when they cannot be compared because one is only given a single option. The canonical example is a hiring decision made about two candidates being hired for a programming job. Subjects in an experiment were asked to give a starting salary to two candidates, Candidate J and Candidate S. However, some viewed both candidates at the same time (joint evaluation), whereas others only viewed one candidate (separate evaluation). Candidate J had experience of 70 KY programs, and a GPA of 2.5, whereas Candidate S had experience of 10 KY programs and a GPA of 3.9. The results showed that in joint evaluation both candidates received roughly the same starting salary from subjects, who apparently thought a low GPA but high experience was approximately equal to a high GPA but low experience. However, in the separate evaluation, subjects paid Candidate S, the one with the high GPA, substantially more money. The explanation for this is that KY programs is an attribute that is difficult to evaluate and thus people cannot base their judgment on this attribute in separate evaluation.

Personal factors determine food choice. They are preference
-Definitions in different disciplines:The term “preferences” is used in a variety of related, but not identical, ways in the scientific literature. This makes it necessary to make explicit the sense in which the term is used in different social sciences....

, associations
Association (psychology)
In psychology and marketing, two concepts or stimuli are associated when the experience of one leads to the effects of another, due to repeated pairing. This is sometimes called Pavlovian association for Ivan Pavlov's pioneering of classical conditioning....

, habits
Habit (psychology)
Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously. Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks...

, ethnic heritage, tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

, values
Value (personal and cultural)
A personal or cultural value is an absolute or relative ethical value, the assumption of which can be the basis for ethical action. A value system is a set of consistent values and measures. A principle value is a foundation upon which other values and measures of integrity are based...

, social pressure, emotional comfort
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

, availability
In telecommunications and reliability theory, the term availability has the following meanings:* The degree to which a system, subsystem, or equipment is in a specified operable and committable state at the start of a mission, when the mission is called for at an unknown, i.e., a random, time...

, convenience
Convenience is anything that is intended to save resources or frustration. A convenience store at a petrol station, for example, sells items that have nothing to do with gasoline/petrol, but it saves the consumer from having to go to a grocery store."Convenience" is a very relative term and its...

, economy
An economy consists of the economic system of a country or other area; the labor, capital and land resources; and the manufacturing, trade, distribution, and consumption of goods and services of that area...

, image
An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

, medical conditions, and nutrition
Nutrition is the provision, to cells and organisms, of the materials necessary to support life. Many common health problems can be prevented or alleviated with a healthy diet....


Choice and choice set size

A number of research studies in economic psychology have focused on how individual behavior differs when the choice set size (the number of choices to choose from) is low versus when it is high. Of particular interest is whether individuals are more likely to purchase a product from a large versus a small choice set. Currently, the effect of choice set size on the probability of a purchase is unclear. In some cases, large choice set sizes discourages individuals from making a choice and in other cases it either encourages them or has no effect.

There is unambiguous evidence that while greater choice has the potential to improve a person's welfare, there is such a thing as too much choice. For example, in one experiment involving a choice of free soda, individuals explicitly requested to choose from six as opposed to 24 sodas, where the only benefit from the smaller choice set would be to reduce the cognitive burden of the choice. Attempts to explain why choice can demotivate someone from a purchase have focuses on two factors. One assumes that perusing a larger number of choices imposes a cognitive burden on the individual. The other assumes that individuals can experience regret
Regret (emotion)
Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term "sorry." Regret is often felt when someone feels sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance or guilt after committing an action or actions that the person later...

 if they make a suboptimal choice, and sometimes avoid making a choice to avoid experiencing regret.

Individual personality plays a significant role in how individuals deal with large choice set sizes. Psychologists have developed a personality test that determines where an individual lies on the satisficer-maximizer spectrum. A maximizer is one who always seeks the very best option from a choice set, and may anguish after the choice is made as to whether it was indeed the best. Satisficers may set high standards but are content with a good choice, and place less priority on making the best choice. Due to this different approach to decision-making, maximizers are more likely to avoid making a choice when the choice set size is large, probably to avoid the anguish associated with not knowing whether their choice was optimal.

Maximizers are less happy in life, perhaps due to their obsession with making optimal choices in a society where people are frequently confronted with choice. On the other hand, people who refrain from taking better choices through drugs or other forms of escapism tend to be much happier in life.
Others argue, that there is never too much choice and that there is a difference between happiness and satisfaction: a person who tries to find more optimal decisions will often be dissatisfied, but not necessarily unhappy since his attempts at finding better choices did improve his lifestyle (even if it wasn't the best decision he will continually try to incrementally improve the decisions he takes).

Other uses

  • law: the age at which children or young adults can make meaningful and considered choices poses issues for ethics and for jurisprudence.
  • psychology: see choice theory
    Choice theory
    This article is about choice theory in psychology and education. For choice theory in economics, see rational choice theory.The term choice theory is the work of William Glasser, MD, author of the book so named, and is the culmination of some 50 years of theory and practice in psychology and...

  • mathematics: the binomial coefficient
    Binomial coefficient
    In mathematics, binomial coefficients are a family of positive integers that occur as coefficients in the binomial theorem. They are indexed by two nonnegative integers; the binomial coefficient indexed by n and k is usually written \tbinom nk , and it is the coefficient of the x k term in...

     is also known as the choice function.
  • politics: a political movement in the United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     and United Kingdom
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

     which favors the legal availability of abortion
    Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

     calls itself "pro-choice
    Support for the legalization of abortion is centered around the pro-choice movement, a sociopolitical movement supporting the ethical view that a woman should have the legal right to elective abortion, meaning the right to terminate her pregnancy....

  • New Zealand
    New Zealand
    New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

    : slang synonym for "cool
    Cool (aesthetic)
    Something regarded as cool is an admired aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist. Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of...

    ", "nice" or "good". "That's choice!"

See also

  • Choice architecture
    Choice architecture
    Choice architecture describes the way in which decisions are influenced by how the choices are presented , and is a term used by Cass Sunstein and economist Richard Thaler in the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness...

  • Decision making software
    Decision making software
    Decision-making software is a term integrating decision analysis tools to facilitate a person's decision-making process, which results in a choice of a course of action or a variant among several alternatives...

  • Example Choice
    Example Choice
    Example choice is a teaching method that has been developed and explored at the University of Bergen. The main objective is to make mathematics and science teaching more interesting and relevant to the daily life of students...

  • Hobson's choice
    Hobson's choice
    A Hobson's choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not; "take it or leave it". The phrase is said to originate with Thomas Hobson , a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England...

  • Neuroscience of free will
    Neuroscience of free will
    Neuroscience of free will refers to recent neuroscientific investigations shedding light on the question of free will, which is a philosophical and scientific question as to whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions or decisions. As it has become possible to...

  • public choice theory
    Public choice theory
    In economics, public choice theory is the use of modern economic tools to study problems that traditionally are in the province of political science...

    , social choice theory
    Social choice theory
    Social choice theory is a theoretical framework for measuring individual interests, values, or welfares as an aggregate towards collective decision. A non-theoretical example of a collective decision is passing a set of laws under a constitution. Social choice theory dates from Condorcet's...

  • Sudbury Valley School
    Sudbury Valley School
    The Sudbury Valley School was founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts, United States. There are now over 30 schools based on the Sudbury Model in the United States, Denmark, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The model has two basic tenets: educational freedom and democratic...

  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
    The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
    The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers...

  • Will (philosophy)
    Will (philosophy)
    Will, in philosophical discussions, consonant with a common English usage, refers to a property of the mind, and an attribute of acts intentionally performed. Actions made according to a person's will are called "willing" or "voluntary" and sometimes pejoratively "willful"...

  • List of thinking-related topics