Mental representations of important real-life decisions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Two studies investigated how decision makers characterize alternatives in important real-life decisions, which they themselves had made (to leave a partner, to choose an education and to choose a home). First, the participants indicated a very high degree of involvement in the decisions studied and about half of the participants gave maximum involvement ratings for the partner decision. Second, the results showed that concepts that are essential in most decision theories, such as, consequence, probability and value were important characteristics of the decisions. Third, emotion, positive and negative affect were also important characteristics. Fourth, value and emotion were uncorrelated. Fifth, the patterns of characteristics of decisions made in the past did not differ markedly from the characteristics given to future decisions. Principal component analyses were performed on the ratings of applicability of the different characteristics across participants for each decision situation. Three factors were extracted. There was one factor for positive affect/emotions and another factor for negative affect/emotions verified in oblique solutions. Thus, different scales are needed to represent emotion/affect components (and not bipolar scales) in real-life important decisions. The third factor represented the way in which a decision was represented (moving pictures dialogue etc.). An analysis restricted to the participants who rated 100% involvement showed an additional fourth factor with "what others would think", "similar situations", "values" and "money" as the most prominent characteristics. This points to the importance of controlling for participant involvement in studies of human decision making to enable generalizations to real-life decisions. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychology


  • real-life decisions, behavioral decision making, mental representation, personal decisions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1353-1362
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch