karelaia1My most examined post What Has Brunswik’s Lens Model Taught?  was based on a paper authored by Karelaia and Hogarth. It only seems right to look at some of Karelaia’s other work. This post is based on a working paper from INSEAD, “Improving Decision Making through Mindfulness,” authored by Natalia Karelaia and Jochen Reb, forthcoming in Mindfulness in Organizations, Reb, J., & Atkins, P. (Eds.), Cambridge University Press.

This paper is a review of the literature surrounding the premise that even when it comes to making decisions, an activity that is often quite conscious, deliberate and intentional, people are typically not as aware as they could be. Karelaia and Reb argue that as a result, decision quality may suffer and that mindfulness, the state of being openly attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present, both internally and externally, can help people make better decisions. Figure 1 is an excerpt from the paper.

Karelaia and Reb early on admit that making every decision with conscious involvement such as when to breath in and to breath out or when to lift a leg to make a step forward would not be an efficient use of one’s limited mental resources. However, they suggest that the importance of seeing oneself and the situation from the metaphorical “balcony” arguably rises dramatically with the importance and complexity of the decision to be made.

I can see mindfulness somehow mediating the continuum between analysis and intuition, but it also looks like it has the potential to create decision points that would be best avoided and to slow the decision process down.  As the authors note:

In such cases, mindfulness may increase vacillation between options and slow down decision making or, in extreme cases, lead to decision paralysis.

I am not convinced of the value of mindfulness throughout the decision process as shown in Figure 1 above. Two areas would seem to be helped most by mindfulness:  coming to conclusions and learning from feedback.

I agree with Karelaia and Reb that mindfulness might be especially helpful when intuition suggests a course of action different from the one favored by analysis. In such situations, it may be desirable to examine closely the discrepancy between intuition and deliberation, rather than ignoring one or the other. One’s intuitive judgment may be at odds with the analytical solution because something in the current situation reminds the decision maker of a similar experience or situation and thus triggers an implicit reaction, which the decision maker cannot yet explain. When the decision to be made is in the domain in which the individual has extensive expertise, the intuition is likely to provide a valid – and fast – input to the decision. Otherwise, it may not be so good. Karelaia and Reb believe that mindfulness should help decision makers (1) be more aware of the instances when their intuition suggests a decision different from the solution emerging from the analytical appraisal of the situation and (2) evaluate whether this intuitive judgment is likely to be valid.

Mindful individuals may be more likely to recognize when the learning structure of their decision environment is not conducive to learning–Hogarth’s wicked environment. This is the case, for instance, when individuals have access to the feedback on the chosen course of action but are oblivious to the consequences of the foregone course(s) of action (e.g., the applicant hired versus the applicants not hired), or when the outcome is a sum of both individual skill and effort and other factors such as luck (e.g., successfully investing in the stock market). Karelaia and Reb suspect that being more aware of the limitations of available feedback, mindful individuals may be more likely to actively seek for missing feedback and correct for noise and other factors when interpreting feedback.

However, awareness of feedback limitations is not sufficient for effective learning. To learn from experience, individuals have to be open and receptive to whatever information they receive about their performance/outcomes, including negative information. Karelaia and Reb propose that mindfulness is related to more openness to feedback. They suggest that because mindfulness is a state of open-mindedness and non-evaluative awareness, mindful individuals  experience less ego-involvement.   As a consequence, they will be more likely to refine their judgment, improve their future decisions, and ultimately improve their intuition.