Are you a second guesser?

You're taking an exam in the Pollock Testing Center. You read the question, look over the answers, and you see it! Yes, it must be b. That is the answer. But wait, maybe it's c... That one makes sense too. What if by automatically choosing b. I chose too quickly and missed the right answer? If the answer is b. that is just too easy. I need to think this through more. This could make or break my exam grade! Should I go with my initial gut feeling? Or my second guess... 

Science shows second guessing ourselves can actually lead to unhappiness. My example above is a regular occurrence in most college student's lives. I know I have walked out of an exam thinking I should have changed that one answer. Then I ponder this decision until I get my exam grade, leading me to be unsure and even unhappy about a grade I haven't even received yet. 

When it comes to making decisions Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida State University, says people are either "maximizers" or "satisficers." "Satisficers are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met." "Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. They can't make a decision until after they've examined every option, so they know they're making the best possible choice." Maximizers obsess over the right choice. Two studies of Florida State undergraduate volunteers finds that maximizers "focus on finding the best option ultimately undermines their commitment to their final choices." For example, maximizers would get very nervous if they saw an "All Sales Final" sign because they would be forced to commit. Therefore, they rethink their decision. Satisficers don't necessarily settle, but once they find a choice that meets their needs, criteria, etc. they choose that option and are satisfied. 

In Barry Schwartz book, The Paradox of Choices, he states that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers spend more time and energy to make a decision, and they are often anxious and worried if they are making the right decision. Afterwards, they may feel regret. Similar to how a student may feel after an exam.  

So, are you a satisficer or a maximizer? 
Think about when you took exam 2 for this class... Did you second guess your answers? If you took the exam a second time were any changes you made correct or was your gut feeling right in the first place? If you got a B on the first try were you satisfied, or did you want to try again until you made the best choices? 


Do you think that it is possible to be a little bit of both? I definitely think I am part maximizer because I definitely second guess my decisions a lot. I worry too much that if I had chosen differently things may be better. I have the worst buyers remorse ever. Whenever I buy anything no matter how small I get that sudden urge to return it because I could've possibly used the money in a wise way. Yet I can also be a satisfier because there are some decisions that I am very quick to make and have no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision. I knew right away that I was coming to Penn State and have never regretted that decision or thought I might have been happier somewhere else. Do you think it's possible to be a mix of the two?

I am a maximizer, for sure. I don't like to be, but I am. I think maximizers waste time and energy on the little things which aren't important in the big picture. For example, I always spend at least twenty minutes in a store no matter what. I'll go because I need milk, okay, then I see some cookies I might want to go with it. Then I have to think, do I want to spend money on these cookies? Do I really want them? What kind should I get? A big long process of time and energy just to make the decision if I want a pack of Oreos or not. I feel people like me, maximizers, actually do worse on the exams in this class than satisfiers because maximizers feel the need to get every question correct (which is impossible). The tests need to be viewed in a way a satisfier would look at them for students to be happy with the results. I wish I could switch my decision making ways. Do you think that could happen? Could we teach ourselves to think differently when approaching a decision?

After reading this, I feel that I am a definite mix of both a maximizer and a satisfier. In some cases, I don't think through the decision at all. I see something I want, and I decide to get it (usually when it comes to shopping for clothes or new electronics). However, because of this I often feel a lot of regret afterwards. I buy a shirt because it's there, and of course final sale, and then after I think, "Wow, I really did not need this shirt even if it was 50% off." But then, there comes exam time. And for some reason, here is the time when I just can't make a decision. Unlike that new shirt I just had to have at the time regardless of if I needed it or is it worth it, I can't for the life of me choose an answer. And, more times than not, I end up switching my answer to the WRONG choice. Even though I realize this now, at the time I still find a way of convincing myself that no, this time, I really should change it. So, from where I stand it seems that I pretty much have it all wrong. Maybe I should start seeing clothes as possible exam problems, and the first test answer I think is right as that half off shirt I just need to have. Who knows, maybe this is the answer to all my problems?

Tal, you can be both a maximizer and satisficer according to this article...

You can be a maximizer in some decisions and a satsificer in others. One example from the article is the author's friend is a maximizer about buying an apartment, but a satisficer about renting an apartment. The difference is commitment. Buying is a bigger commitment than renting, therefore the friend is going to analyze every option further when buying than renting. The outcome: her friend and his wife are renting because they had to move and are still searching for that perfect place to call home. To me, in this situation, I would definitely be a maximizer. It would be irresponsible to make such a big commitment and not think thoroughly about it.

Taylor, the article in e! Science News where I got some of my information says "current research is trying to understand whether they [maximizers] can change" because maximizers often have the most grief after a decision that can lead to unhappiness. The article does not go into detail about the research though. The results may not be clear yet.

Here is the article...

If you second guess yourself too much and you would like to stop doing so, this study suggests that cleaning your hands will help you stop second guessing yourself! Sounds a little absurd huh? Well, the study says that the physical act of actually washing your hands after you make a decision can help you mentally move on and feel even more solid about your decision.

According to the lead author of the study, once people make a decision, they have a tendency to reinforce its positive attributes to help convince themselves that they chose the right decision. He says, “One you give people a chance to wash their hands, they do not feel the need to say to themselves: I made a right choice."

You should check out the study, it is really interesting. Apparently the expression "I'm going to wash my hands of something. I'm going to move on," could be a little more than a metaphor.

I read your article Tarek and found it to be very interesting and honestly hard to believe. Not saying it's not true. I had never thought of washing my hands after I had made a decision in order to accept the decision, regardless of the pros and cons, and move on. I guess it would make sense though. Washing your hands takes your mind off the decision and afterwards you feel clean and "new" similar to "washing away your sins." I definitely agree with what Mr. Lee said about how once we make a decision we focus on the positives of that decision and the negatives of the others. We have committed to the decision so why focus on the positives of the one we didn't choose and regret not choosing it?

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