Over the Winter School break I read an interesting article about decision making. The article looked at the research by Dr Agnieszka Tymula into people’s willingness to tolerate risk in the decisions they were making. The research was undertaken in the area of financial risk but it was clear from the research that there were wider implications. Most people think that young people are inherently risk takers. It is often used to explain why they are involved in riskier activities and have a higher mortality rate through accidents.
The study did show older people as being more risk averse. However, the surprising result was that when young people knew the risks they were just as risk averse as older people. When they didn’t know the risk they were more likely to assume that the odds would be stacked in their favour and to make a decision which was more inherently risky. If they could see the risk then they would accurately calculate it and use it as information to make their decision.
Dr Tymula concluded that what young people need is to be helped in the area of decision making by being given the ability to calculate risk. The ability to make decisions in this way can be taught by developing the capacity to think critically. One of the most effective ways is to provide opportunities to practise making decisions and walking young people through a process they can use when faced with making a decision.
The research demonstrated that the more options a person has, the poorer their ability to make a good decision becomes. This is because multiple options give the brain too many signals and lead people to not necessarily pick the best option.
A very practical way to help young people is to help them identify the options as a first step in the decision making process. In reflecting on this, one of the challenges is that as parents and educators we are often caught up in giving quite young children multiple options.
It would seem wise in the early years to reduce the number of options so that the child gets used to making a relatively safe choice.
Helping children to think of what might happen before they make their final choice further enhances their ability to think about risk. In practising this early we can build the capacity in young people to think through the options and weigh up the risks, and thus, make wiser choices when faced with making decisions.