From UBC Wiki
Decision Making
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

According to the Oxford Dictionary (2015), decision making is the act or process of selecting a logical choice from a series of available options. It is a conclusion or resolution made after consideration and requires formal judgement (“Decision making”, 2015). We use information given to us to guide our behaviour among multiple possible courses of action (Wilke & Todd, 2010). Decision making is studied through a comprehensive range of disciplines including but not limited to psychology, neuroscience, economics, political science and computer science (Gold & Shadlen, 2007). For the purpose of this wiki, decision making will be discussed in a psychological perspective with emphasis on how it may affect children's movement experiences.

Decision Making Process

Our lives are dictated by a series of decisions. For example, when we go out for dinner, we choose what cuisine we want, what restaurant to go to, what entrée to eat, and who we want to eat with. These decisions, whether simple or complex, follow a particular structure. Doya (2008) describes decision making as a four step process.

1. Recognition of the present situation or state

Recognition of the situation typically requires a trigger or stimulus (Doya, 2008). For example, the psychological need for food, is triggered by our appetite through peristalsis of our stomach. This gives us the indication that we are hungry.

2. Evaluation of action and options

This evaluation is based on the potential reward or punishment that each individual option may bring (Doya, 2008). Similarly, the individual may also weigh the pros and cons of each alternative.

3. Selection of action in reference to needs

At this step, the chosen option becomes differentiated with all the other alternatives, in order to frame it as sufficiently superior (Svenson, 1992). The chosen option may not necessarily be the best alternative. This is known as the differentiation and consolidation theory (Svenson, 1992).

4. Re-evaluation of action based on outcome.

Simple Decision Making: Heuristics

Heuristics is a strategy used in a decision making when an individual wants to make a decision quickly and in an efficient manner (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011). It reduces the amount of effort put into the decision by purposely ignoring a part of the information. This strategy is particularly useful in real life situations where there may be time constraints and an overwhelming amount of information to process. Shah and Oppenheimer (2008) explain five methods in which an individual will reduce the amount of effort. We use these methods subconsciously, and the amount utilised varies from person to person.

1. Examine fewer cues.

Examining fewer cues allows you to quickly identify which are important. Then, you can select the best alternative out of a group from that cue.

2. Reduce the difficulty associated with retrieving and storing cue values

Cue values can be forgotten by comparing the cues instead. (Shah & Oppenheimer, 2008). For example, if a parent was deciding between registering for skating lessons and swimming lessons for her child, they would compare the prices relative to the other. They would think of one activity costing more, or less, or the same as the other so they would not need to remember both prices individually.

3. Simplifying the weighing principles for cues

By ignoring the potential quality of each cue, it avoids the natural process of weighing them (Shah & Oppenheimer, 2008). This allows all possible alternatives to be compared without bias. If a certain cue has a greater quality we will weigh it more heavily.

4. Integrating less information

If there is a minimal amount of information, we cannot make an impression on the potential benefit of each alternative, which will delay the decision.

5. Examining fewer alternatives

Examining fewer alternatives limits the number being compared at the same time.

Accuracy-Effort Trade Off

The decisions we make every day vary in importance. Choosing what shoes to wear may not be as important as choosing what sport to register for the hockey off-season in the summer. It is not logical to spend time figuring out the best course of action for minuscule, arbitrary decisions Therefore, we may rely on the use of heuristics to save us time and effort in return for quick decisions with some loss in accuracy (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011). Rational trade-offs involve voluntary use of heuristics to save us effort, while cognitive trade-offs require us to use heuristics due to the limitations of the environment or capacity, in which we cannot act rationally (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011). For example, a parent has to select an afterschool athletic program for her child out of a subset of ten and has five minutes to decide. She is unable to weigh the potential benefits and rewards of all alternatives due to cognitive overload. Our immediate working memory can only hold seven individual ideas or objects at one time (Miller, 1994). Instead, she is forced to use heuristics to make the decision.

Modulators of Decision Making

The decisions we make are always affected by the environment and our internal values (Doya, 2008); this may include our past experiences, and cognitive biases.

Past Experiences

Our experiences of previous decisions greatly affect the way in which we approach and make future decisions. This can be explained by cognitive dissonance reduction theory; it states that humans have a desire to be consistent with their decision making. When exposed to a similar situation with more alternatives, we purposely place a greater weight on the previously selected alternative, even if there may be more reasonable decision (Festinger, 1957). Furthermore, once we make a decision we typically begin to view the characteristics of the choice more positively (Arad, 2013). Children’s decisions to not participate in physical activity may be reinforced by their desire be consistent, regardless of their level of physical literacy. This desire can compound and hurt their potential experiences in sport and activity further in life. Another factor may be the outcomes of the decisions they previously made. Ratner and Herbst (2005) explored how unfavorable outcomes of good decisions affected future decisions of the same premise. Unfavorable outcomes led to an emotional recall of regret and greatly reduced their willingness to make the same decision again (Ratner & Herbst, 2005). This may happen on a daily basis for a child. For example, a child who chooses to play basketball trips, and severely sprains his ankle. He may have made the correct choice to play, but the injury had an unfavorable outcome and may affect his future decisions to play again.


The environment we are in affects the way we make decisions. Human evolution has helped us produce adaptive choices which are based on characteristic cues from the environment (Wilke & Todd, 2010). It changes the way in which we think, analyze information, and deliberate over our choices.


It has been discovered that we often default to melioration when making decisions in unfamiliar environments or circumstances, where the relationship between our actions and outcomes is unknown (Sims, Jacobs, Neth & Gray, 2013). Melioration is the process of “choosing a lesser, local gain over a greater longer term gain” (Sims et al., 2013, p.139). In order words, we select an option that brings that an immediate, but short reward rather than an option that may bring significantly greater reward down the road. For example, literature has shown that eating large amounts fast food has shown an increased risk of long term diseases (Stender, Dyerbeg, & Astrup, 2007). We are certain about it, therefore we may limit our consumption. For adults, since we know that exercise is associated with health benefits (Livengood, Caspersen, Koplan & Blair, 1993), we are more willing to do it. Children at a young age are not aware of the possible outcomes of their actions, thus their actions will follow melioration. They will always choose the immediate short term reward that gives them happiness, pleasure, and a rush of dopamine. It may not always be exercise. In fact, it may be the internet, games or electronics – all of which that do not foster physical activity.


When placed in situations with high psychological stress, we see changes in the decision making process (Sieber, 1974). It has been proposed that we use a particular coping mechanism that helps us make rational decisions under stress. It is known as vigilance (Janis & Mann, 1977; Keinan 1987). Vigilance allows us to “search painstakingly for relevant information, assimilate information in an unbiased manner and appraise alternatives carefully before making a choice” (Janis & Mann, 1977, p.73). This mechanism is not full proof and often is disrupted in extremely high stress situations. It leads to a decisions that are inappropriate due to an inability to organize, process, and evaluate the given information; the generation of all available options then becomes hindered. Keinan (1987) suggests three possible explanations for these inappropriate decisions.

1. Premature Closure

We make a decision before considering all available options.

2. Non-systematic Scanning

The available information is scanned in a non-systematic way; it is chaotic, and disorganized (Keinan, 1987).

3. Temporal Narrowing

We spend an insufficient amount of time considering all available options.

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are patterns of thinking that depart from standards of logic and accuracy. (Haselton, Nettle & Andrews, 2005). We draw these patterns from our personal experiences, and social perceptions which lead us to make generalizations that may not be truthful. The subsequent consequences are decisions based on “poor judgement, memory error, and incorrect reasoning” (Haselton et al, 2005, p.725).

Belief Bias

Belief bias occurs when individuals reject unbelievable conclusions, and accept believable ones (Roberts & Skyes, 2003). It is also present when individuals accept evidence that parallels their own beliefs, but dismiss the evidence that supports a conclusion they are not aligned with (Thompson & Evans, 2012). This may pose a significant threat to parents who may not have a background in kinesiology or knowledge about the importance of physical activity. For example, some parents may believe that athletes may only suffer concussions in high contact sports such as hockey, football, and rugby. The evidence says otherwise (Marar, McIlvain, Fields, & Comstock, 2012), but it is an extremely believable conclusion. As a result, parents enroll their children in sports with minimal levels of contact even though there may still be a risk.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon where individuals purposely favour and seek information that matches their beliefs (Hernandez & Preston, 2013). This creates a series of limitations for the decision maker. They may miss out on relevant information such as other potential alternatives and make a decision prematurely. Their view is one-dimensional, and further compounds their beliefs if they are inaccurate. For example, a parent strongly believes in early sport specialization for their child and considers only the potential benefits. This may include a higher chance of success at their age-group, and selection to developmental teams (Lasinksky, 2014). The parent ignores a whole group of detrimental drawbacks such as burn out, drop out, and less enjoyment (Lasinsky, 2014). Most importantly, the child will likely not be proficient at all of the fundamental movement skills; this will severely hinder and impair their participation in sport as an adult (Bredin, 2015).

Physical Activity Decision Making for Children

Participation in sports and physical activity gives children an opportunity to improve their physical fitness, and develop their social skills (Washington, Bernhardt, & Gomez, 2001); however, parents need to be cautious about the decisions they make. Organized sports inherently comes with risks, especially ones that involve early sport specialization (Lasinsky, 2014). The biggest problems being reported are negative effects on growth and maturation, particularly female athlete triad and injuries (Washington et al, 2001). There may also be long term effects down the road as an adult such as physiological imbalances, and a decreased willingness to participate in sport activities (Lasinsky, 2014).

Studies have shown that parents play a significant role in their children’s choice of sports (Washington et al, 2001). This is directed related to their previous history in sport. Children of physically active parents are more likely to be enrolled in a sport than children of parents who were not physically active as a child. Therefore, children are affected not only by their own decisions, but the decisions made by their parents as well. Thus, parents need to be informed and make educated decisions when placing their children in sport or physical activity.


Arad, A. (2013). Past decisions do affect future choices: An experimental demonstration. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 121, 267-277. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2013.01.006

Bredin, S. (2015). Long term athlete development [Lecture Notes]. Retrieved from

Decision-making. (2015). Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from

Decision making. (2015). Business Dictionary. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from

Doya, K. (2008). Modulators of Decision Making. Nature: Neuroscience, 11(4), 410-417. doi:10.1038/nn2077.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Peterson’s Publishing.

Gigerenzer, G., Gaissmaier, W. (2011). Heuristic decision making. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 451-482. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-120709-145346

Gold, J., & Shadlen, M. (2007). The Neural Basis of Decision Making. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 30(1), 535-574. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.29.051605.113038

Haselton, M. G., Nettle, D., & Andrews, P. W. (2005). The evolution of cognitive bias. The handbook of evolutionary psychology, 724-746.

Hernandez, I., Preston, J.L. (2013). Disfluency disrupts the confirmation bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 178-182. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.08.010

Janis, I.L., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: a psychological analysis of conflict, choice, and commitment. New York, New York: Free Press.

Keinan, G. (1987). Decision making under stress: Scanning of alternatives under controllable and uncontrollable threats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 639-644. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.3.639

Lasinsky, A. (2014). Long term athlete development [Lecture Notes]. Retrieved from

Livengood, J.R., Caspersen, C.J., Koplan, J.P., & Blair, S.N. (1993). The health benefits of exercise. The New England Journal of Medicine, 328, 1852-1853. doi:10.1056/NEJM199306243282515

Marar, M., McIlvain, N.M., Fields, S.K., Comstock, R.D. (2012). Epidemiology of concussions among United States high school athletes in 20 sports. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(4), 747-755. doi:10.1177/0363546511435626

Miller, G.A. (1994). The magical number, seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information, Psychological Review, 101(2), 343-352. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.101.2.343

Ratner, R.K., & Herbst, K. C. (2005). When good decisions have bad outcomes: The impact of effect on switching behaviour. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 96, 23-37. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2004.09.003

Roberts, M.J., & Sykes, E.D. (2003). Belief bias and relational reasoning. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 56A(1), 131-154. doi:10.1080/02724980244000233

Sieber, J.E. (1974). Effects of decision importance on ability to generate warranted subjective uncertainty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(5), 688-694. doi:10.1037/h0037416

Shah, A.K., Oppenheimer, D.M. (2008). Heuristics made easy: An effort-reduction framework. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 207-222. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.207

Sims, C.R., Jacobs, R.A., Neth, H., & Gray, W.D. (2013). Meloration as rational choice: Sequential decision making in uncertain environments. Psychological Review, 120(1), 139-154. doi:10.1037/a0030850

Stender, S., Dyerberg, J., & Astrup, A. (2007). Fast food: unfriendly and unhealthy. International Journal of Obesity, 31, 887-890. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803616

Svenson, O. (1992). Differentiation and consolidation theory of human decision making: A frame of reference for the study of pre- and post-decision processes. Acta Psychologica, 80(3), 143-168. doi: 10.1016/0001-6918(92)90044-E

Thompson, V., & Evans, J.B. (2012). Belief bias in informal reasoning. Thinking & Reasoning, 18(3), 278-310. doi:10.1080/13546783.2012.670752

Washington, R.L., Bernhardt, D.T., & Gomez, J. (2001). Organized sports for children and preadolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics, 107(6), 1459-1462. doi: 10.1542/peds.107.6.1459

Wilke, A., & Todd, P.M. (2010). Past and present environments: The evolution of decision making. Psicothema, 22(1), 4-8.