The Statistics of Natural Tasks: How People Make Everyday Decisions in a Complex World

Dombrowski, Katya [Browse]
Senior thesis
99 pages


Niv, Yael [Browse]
Botvinick, Matthew [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
When making decisions in complex environments, how can people separate what is important from what can be ignored? This study used the common task of choosing an item from a list to uncover whether there are specific strategies for solving this problem across both people and domains. Two types of everyday decisions, choosing food from a menu and choosing undergraduate courses from a list, were tested using online, as well as in-lab, experiments. The results revealed that participants tended to first narrow down their options based on broad information and then come to a final decision after looking at the short list of options in more detail. The results from this experiment also suggested that participants made these decisions based on only a few criteria at a time, where some criteria were significantly more important across participants. Therefore, despite the complexity and uniqueness of a given scenario, there may be common strategies used across people and domains in everyday decision-making. These processes may allow for less cognitive demand when making decisions, which could lead to a more efficient process overall. Further experiments could reveal whether or not these behavioral results correlate with similar neural networks, across both people and domains, as well.

Supplementary Information