The Effect of Time on Decision Making

ID 100127587 The Effect of Time on Decision Making

Andrzej Marczewski

Gamification Expert, author, consultant and designer. I love to write about it, talk about it and bore people to death with it! If you really want to get to know me, check out the About page.

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21 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed the article, Andrzej. This topic really intrigues me as we are in the midst of raising a generation that has information come at them faster than ever. When I was a teenager I learned about the events of a day, nationally and globally, on the evening news. Kids today see it in real-time, at their finger tips. Super interesting to me to study the effect time constraints have on decision making, and how that overlaps with the pace of the information thrown at them, too. It’s not just time they are up against, but their ability to process more information in that time frame than ever before. Thanks for writing the article!

  2. Ian MooreIan Moore says:

    Very interesting article. I hadn’t even considered the psychology of decision making in games.

    It is obvious that time constraints increase stress levels but there is also considerable evidence that shorter time constraints produce better decisions at least in individuals with high levels on experience in a domain.

    There is of course evidence which goes against these findings.

    On amusing fact that I came across recently on a UK TV show (IQ with Stephen Fry) was that having a full bladder increases the effectiveness of decision making 🙂

    I can see why this might help make a decision quicker but haven’t found the original source to see why the researcher suggest it actually improves decision making.

    • Hah, yeah QI is a great show! I used needing the loo in an example of personal gamification actually. Lots of people (myself included), will sit there bouncing up and down needing the loo, but determined to finish what they are doing first! The reward – going to the loo!

      • Ian MooreIan Moore says:

        Thinking about it the same things applies when you are engrossed in any task – in the past I have noticed computer programmers desperately trying to finish a bit of difficult code before doing anything else – and not just programmers but anyone who is totally absorbed.

        Is this delayed gratification or just being absorbed I wonder?

        • a lot of that is Flow – being in the moment with everything else fading away. Then it often comes down to just not wanting to leave something unfinished!!

        • Nice examples 🙂
          I bet that the people, you are talking about, at this moment were involved into an task where they actually had the feeling of being able to solve the problem in ‘a minute’.

          So, they were absorbed (in the flow). We do anything to stay in this situation as long as we can.

          Do you remember the last time you finished an engaging game and (although the last screen was full of fireworks, music, and more looking to reward you for your achievement) you were rather dissapointed that it is over? We crave rather for the challenging process than for the well-earned reward.

          In this case the need to go to the loo even adds an additional (time)pressure to the task ;-). So, it becomes even more challenging and worth to overvome it 😉

          So, I have a new game-element for gamifying processes: “By onboarding the challenge you have to drink at least one bottle of water.”

          • Ian MooreIan Moore says:

            Yes – any truly engaging project drives out other thoughts (or consumes us). You are right about the feeling of loss. I any truly engaging project there seems to be an element of “I really need to get this finished” – the strange thing is when it is finished you feel a sense of loss and after a short recovery time you start looking for the next thing to do.

            Is this normal or I am just compulsive?

          • This is not just normal but natural.

            1. Our brain has a limited capacitiy of information that it can deal with. Normally you are not using the full capacity of your obvious consciousness. Some of the capacity is always used to think about ‘Being and time’.

            But, if you are experiencing some kind of Flow (a meaningful challenge that almost matches your skills; just a little bit above) your brain starts using all the capacitiy and this means also the part that is thinking about ‘Being and time’. This is why you are experiencing the feeling of loss and why we experience time to move faster while doing something that we are engaged in.

            2. The first rule of a species to be able to survive is to be able to adapt to changes, right? That’s how evolution works. And being able to adapt means to be abel to learn. This is why our brain is an anmazing learning engine. The best way to learn is to be confronted by a challenge that challenges your skills. Our brain is made to look for patterns and so to learn. This is how we evolved and how our brain was challenged for more than 500 million years.
            Of course we developed our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that differentiates us from the primates but it is just around 2 million years old.
            So, this is why we are still intuitive behaving in a way like if we were pre-primates. Looking for the next thing to do (and to be challenged) is the secret of evolution. So, you are doing good. 😉

          • Ian MooreIan Moore says:

            Makes sense to me!

  3. HisocialHisocial says:

    Hi Andrzej,

    Interesting. I think that when we talk about time constraints, you also have to take into account the profile of the users. Some users are more likely to “play” into a time-constraint environment than others.

    • There are a few things you have to look at really, this is a pretty generic look at how people deal with decision making and the effects of time. More to come in the future I feel – how my user types deal with time constraints could be a fun investigation!

  4. I don’t quite agree that time-constraints, especially when talking about really short time constraints, could produce better decisions. Quite the contrary, actually, I believe that time-constraints will always result in lower quality decisions, and their main use would be to practice working under such constraints (which do happen in real life), in order to perform better when the real need is there.

    One reason for my stance is that psychological research into intuitive
    thinking confirms that intuitive decisions more often include
    ontological confusions (mistakes on which things affect each other and which things do not) than analytical decisions.

    have different propensities for intuitive thinking, but also people with
    high level of cognitive inhibition make more ontological confusions
    when forced to react in a very limited period of time or while

    is a link to a recent doctoral dissertation on intuitive thinking and
    belief in the supernatural (and it’s based on peer-reviewed articles, so
    considering that the articles passed the publication barrier first,
    this usually indicates fairly high quality):

    Another reason for my stance is the wide criticism of brainstorming as a technique and the lack of evidence in its performance. See, for example,

    ( For an alternative approach to idea creation, see for example the TRIZ method: )

    Finally, some evidence toward the effect that fast decision-making is a trainable skill, for example through video gaming:

    • I shall read that with interest. Not sure I say anywhere you get better decisions, merely that you get different decisions and why and that this is important to understand.

      • I think a lot hinges on what you mean by “natural bias”.

        In the dissertation I linked to, the cognitive inhibition exercised when more time is available uniformly results in better decisions. Of course, the subject was belief in the supernatural, in phenomenons that do not make sense based on our current understanding of the world.

        This sort of “bias” is very useful in enterprise innovation, because it is good that engineers have a proper understanding on the properties of used material, for example.

        This does not mean that there cannot be other bias that negatively affect analytical decision-making. I am just not fully convinced that such bias actually exist.

        • In my ladder example. If I had a fear of ladders and had enough time to not go the jumping over route – the grappling hook may be the option I went for. If I did not have time to make the grappling hook, but had enough time to climb the ladder – I may not have time to worry about my disliking of ladders an just get up it ASAP. By not having too long to over analyse, I decide upon a more practical solution for the time given.

    • The brainstorming one is an interesting one. I think the thing that the research is not taking into account is the social aspect of this kind of decision making. On a practical level, 10 individuals coming up with better ideas on their own is really interesting to know. However, many times these kinds of sessions are as much about bringing a team together as they are about generating the best ideas. The ideas generated may well morph after the event and have things added to them, but the team will feel like they all contributed to whatever is finally used. I think one of the massive issues with brainstorming often comes with over analysing what is being said, thats why I quite enjoy the ones where individuals have a short time to have ideas, then the group has a short time to discuss them. Cuts out a lot of the over thinking!

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