7400.362 - Family Life Management
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Topic 5 - Decision Making and
Decisions are, by definition, conclusions or
judgments about some issue or matter. Good decisions meet several
criteria – quality, acceptance, flexibility and clarity. A family’s
decisions will probably work if they are supported by the family
members and are linked to a common objective/goal.
Decision Making is the process of
making a judgment about some issue or matter – making a choice between
two or more alternatives (in management terms)– or part of the
process of inputs to outputs (in systems theory terms).
Does he love me - I wanna know -
I tell if its really so
Is it in his eyes - no
Is it in his touch - no no no no
If you want to know if he loves you so -
in his kiss ...
Not good evidence on which to base a
Life is full of decisions, some requiring
effort (i.e., chocolate or vanilla?), and some that should require
effort (i.e., have a baby or take a math class, marry Jocko or go to
school, buy a house or invest in mutual funds).
More important (salient) decisions arise from
situations where we want or need something we don't have.
Decisions are our attempt to "bridge the gap"
where we are, and where we want or need to be. Such decisions are
to maintaining and improving the conditions of our lives and are guided
by our values and our goals, since decisions have positive or negative
Sociologist Robert K. Merton referred
where decisive actions were called "functions", which could be Positive
or Negative, and Manifest (Intended) or Latent (Unintended). Thus, we
i.e., working hard &
putting off marriage
to finish education.
i.e., by waiting to marry
better partners are
Unlikely, but not
impossible that a
harm to themselves
i.e., by waiting too long
all the really good partners
find other spouses.
II. Decision Making as part of Management
Decisions vary in intensity and importance -
not every decision will change the course of a life, and often
appear to be more immediately necessary than they might over
In the case of True Love (a timeless movie plot), the passion part of
love is more important if the characters are younger, while the
companionate part of love is more important in the long run of a
commitment (not that older people lack passion!!). People are motivated
to maximize positive outcomes and minimize mistakes, thus using
implementing and cost-benefit analyses in decision-making.
We make a decision, after which we have to
with the unknown, unintended "functions" of our choice. Remember,
that decisions present both problems and opportunities. By constructing
issues as ‘opportunities’ in organizations, Jane Dutton (2001)
that organization-wide change could take place.
Because of the strong influence our values
in this process, Decision Making is highly personal. Our personality,
the personalities of others involved in our decisions must be figured
the discussion of the process. We can often eliminate options that go
our values, and thus save time, an important resource.
Each person’s personality and usual modes of
and acting influence the characteristic way s/he makes decisions
making style’, affected by values, knowledge, ability, motivation, type
of decision being made, speed of decision making, amount of available
Quick decisions, decisions impulsively
those made without investigation and deliberation are inferior (though
sometimes quite necessary) to more thoughtful, informed, reflective
Of course, people cannot always take the time and put out the effort to
be deliberate. Additionally, some people tend toward quick, impulsive
while others are more reflective and thoughtful - almost painfully slow
to decide - part of this is situational (there are different time
for different decisions) - and part is personality.
Sometimes, when quick decisions are called
other times, when we are lazy, or what psychologists like to call
misers’ – we don’t want to think!), we make use of mental shortcuts
‘heuristics’ which often lead to the right decision, but sometimes lead
to mistakes. For instance, given a description of Jack as being
good in math, very sloppily dressed, precise and logical, and given the
fact that 30% of the population consists of engineers, what is the
that Jack is an engineer? 70%? 30%? 90%? Did you (like many others)
90%? In that case, you succumbed to an error called the
heuristic – you made a judgment based on the description of Jack as it
matched the stereotype of an engineer, without taking into account
rate’ or probability of Jack being an engineer.
Decision Making Steps
The Decision Plan is used when the process is
and complicated. Final strategy selected depends on the decision
the task, and personal decision-making style. The acronym ‘DECIDE’ is a
framework for many plans (Malhotra, 1991).
Other than spot-checks, evaluation of the
is important too. In consumer decision-making again, Postpurchase
represents this phase(if the thing purchased doesn't measure up to
seek reinforcement for the decision).
- Define the Decision – What is the core
of the situation?
Why is a decision needed? What relevant background information is
- Estimate the Resources Needed - time,
information – What's needed to assist this decision and later planning
- Consider Alternative Courses of Action
- Is the cost
of this decision worth the outcome, or can we do something else?
- Consider all options before narrowing
- Imagine the Consequences of Decision
Courses of Action - What is likely to happen? What is the worst-case
The concept of Prepurchase Expectations (beliefs about the anticipated
performance of a product or service) is an example of this step in
- Develop an Action Plan and Implement It
- once a decision
is made, a course of action must be constructed. Step-by-step courses
action along a timeline might be best used. Once outlined in
detail, the idea is to Implement the Course of Action, sticking to it
closely as possible.
- Evaluation Along the Way - like any
good plan, there
should be built-in opportunities to evaluate progress toward the main
Keeping notes, files, tracking spending, and other strategies to see
things are working is a good idea.
Models, Rules, Utility
Models - Changes in behavior or habit are
difficult for people, even though the change is good, and right and
When faced with uncertainty, most people adhere to maintaining the
quo, sticking to pre-established plans, strategies and tactics,
to Silver and Mitchell (1990). Some people are more easily adaptable
others - some require less order or are more at home in semi-chaos. For
those who need help changing, decision models can be used, which assume
that rational decision makers will evaluate alternatives and make the
In the Central-Satellite Model, a central
decision is surrounded by satellite decisions that are off-shoots of
the main decision. It is a more likely portrait of reality than the
Chain Model, especially for large and complicated situations.
Thus, a decision to go back to college
might require many offshoot decisions involving child care, alternative
delivery of affection, a need for extra money for tuition and books,
time off work to attend classes, replacing daily activities with study
time, new or different transportation and nutrition needs.
In this, each decision builds on previous
ones, forming a sequence of steps(B. Paolucci, et al., 1977). The Chain
Model doesn't actually work, by the way, because of its linear nature
and inability to consider more than a narrow focus of events. It is
useful, however, for small systematic decisions. One can imagine using
both, the central satellite and the chain models for long-term and
short-term plans respectively.
In this model (often used in business
strategy planning), people select alternatives based on goals,
perceived availability of resources and most importantly, values.
Decision Rules are logical rules, which
guide decision making.
- Decision makers will seek the best
outcomes (known to them).
- Individuals will try to use their time
to best advantage
- Goals will be kept in mind throughout
- This is a highly optimistic view of human
nature. Age, culture, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge greatly
influence decision rule usage.
Utility - Additional Decision Rule is to
Utility (usefulness of decisions). Rational decision makers are assumed
to seek the maximum utility from decisions they make. Utility analysis
seeks ways to improve the making of choices.
The people who influence our thought habits,
provide guidance or advice to influence our behavior are members of our
reference group. A thumb rule is this: someone is part of your
group if the memory of his/her values and attitudes affect someone’s
Beginning with our parents or caregivers
we begin accepting influence as a way of processing information and
our way through life. By early childhood, we start to include
and even later, love relationships in our reference groups.
along the line, popular music, movies, our culture also informs our
group as we include fads, fashion, and media personalities into our
group. Typically, a college student’s reference groups include
family, co-workers, employers, hometown friends, college friends,
and club/sports-team/music group members, and many others, possibly.
There are Primary and Secondary reference
depending on frequency of contact.
Primary include people we actually know, have
and come to understand. More importantly are the feelings that these
know and understand us. Secondary reference groups include people
we hardly know, or don't really know at all. These would be the police
(unless your Uncle Harry is a police officer), bank tellers, postal
and media personalities.
Personal Decision Making
Since we are, ultimately, responsible for our
decisions, even though many decisions are influenced by others, we
begin to practice making decisions at an early age. Wise parents
know this and begin facilitating decision making skills in their
- from which of "these two cereals" to have for breakfast to making
about which sport to play or which activity to take up after school.
Poor decisions can be rationalized as good
by a person with little decision-making skill. One of the goals of
children is to close the gap between Actual and Perceived Quality of
until there is no difference between the two. Though people raise
in the hope of making them competent decision makers, reality falls
of this expectation.
Examples of Poor Decision Making include
decidophobia and the like.
Indecisiveness - Indecision may be caused
Indecisiveness and the Peter Principle -
Hall, in 1969, proposed an explanation for indecisiveness in
– the Peter Principle: “People tend to be promoted until they reach a
beyond their competence, where they can no longer make and implement
decisions”. This can be avoided by finding a person-job fit, and by
expectations from the start.
- fear of the unknown
- fear of making a mistake
- fear of acting on one's own
- lack of, or inexperience with, good
- feeling overwhelmed by situations
- fear of responsibility
- being overly dependent on others
Avoiding Decisions - Passing the
buck is a way to avoid decisions – e.g. “That’s not my job” or “I
Andy would do this”. Avoidance can be avoided if people are committed
an idea or action, rather than just compliance, wherein people just ‘go
along’ for a while, without believing in it.
Decidophobia - This is the fear of making
specifically, the fear of failure. This is learned, a type of
on others, and a helplessness, that leads to inability to choose and
and a perception of decisions as problems, not opportunities. To
Intuition - Intuition (the sense of what to
going through rational processes) is often a good indicator that a
"feels right" - but should never be the sole factor in making choices.
One way to increase decision making acumen is to trust feelings and
(Kaye, 1996). In fact, Piagetian theory incorporates a form of
into the final stage of cognitive development - Wisdom.
- develop the practice of decision making
at an early
age in children, in simple ways (e.g. what to wear, eat, etc.)
- break a big decision into components
and make those
- moderate expectations
- use decision making models and DECIDE
Toward the end of life, one who has been
watchful of events develops Wisdom, which is the ability to give the
advice and make the right decisions without thinking too much.
and intuition for that matter, are less mystical or metaphysical than
vernacular use of the terms imply. That is - the popular idea of
women's intuition suggests that women, by virtue of their gender, hold
a special ability to know things that men do not. While often
impulsive than men (especially on matters of love and affection), no
ability has ever been borne out in research.
However, intuition based on experience is
a likely outcome of a thoughtful life, it is demonstrated on a daily
For example, if you are walking along a street in a new city and look
a dark alley, and the feeling that the alley is an unsafe place
you, chances are you are acting on intuition that comes from your
socialization, or other social training. However, the
construct of intuition may be better understood (perhaps by eastern
than quantified (by the occidental scientific method).
Family Decision Making
The difference between Personal and Family
Making has to do with the complexity of the task (there's more people
consider, with their individual objectives, often conflicting). The
principles involved in leadership, cooperation, coordination of efforts
and resources, and negotiation are involved in families as well as
run businesses. When conflict is more common than harmony, you know
is something lacking in the decision making process in the family.
One aspect has to do with the Division of
at home (who does what tasks). Traditional families have traditional
of labor - males do work outside the home (yard, fixes, mechanical
things, car work), while females do work inside the home (cooking,
caring for kids, pay bills, decide about furniture, décor,
This outmoded model is very much alive in many part of our society, but
families are steadily moving toward more egalitarian (equalitarian)
where the person with the talent for a task gets the responsibility of
doing the task. For distasteful tasks, newer couples tend to
the work up more equally. New studies are finding that activities such
as child care and grocery shopping are being shared more and more.
Families, Environment and the Elbing Model
You may forget all about the Ebling Model
known in this class as the wee-gee board model). In social science we
the idea of PARSIMONY (this will be on the test where Ebling won't).
states that the best theory describes, explains and predicts behavior
the most straight- forward, simplest terms possible. Ebling clearly
cut it, in my opinion. He tried to describe how people make decisions
on reference groups, alternatives, environmental constraints, using too
Decision Making Styles in Families:
There seem to be at least three Family DM
- all of which may be present in any one family:
Who makes decisions may depend on many things:
- Accommodation – where the family
by accepting the point of view of the dominant person, making power an
- Consensual agreements are made after
debate and compromise
between everyone in the family – mutual agreement.
- De Facto decision making occurs when no
cares enough to make their wishes known about an issue (‘lack of
rather than active assent’)
- syncratic styles - when both partners
- autonomic - when each spouse makes an
of decisions and abides by those decisions.
Consumer Decision Making in Families
- Who commands more material resources
(Blood and Wolfe,
1960) – new research shows that this is much more complex than
- Emotional interdependence
- Ability to control each other and
affect ultimate consensus
- How close the partners are
- Degree of cooperation and communication
- Level of education
- Children have more influence on
decision making in
Family spending amounts to billions of
and this makes it big business, as manufacturers and advertisers have
Families need to decide what to buy (most important), where and when to
shop, how much to pay, and who should pay. Joint decision-making is
common among the middle class, while autonomous decision-making is more
common among upper and lower classes (Loudon and Della Bitta, 1988).
are influencing consumer decision making in families like never before.
Roles in the family decision making process
III. Problem Solving
- influencers - who provide information
to other members
about a product or service
- gatekeepers - who control the flow of
- deciders - who have the power to
or not to purchase
- buyers - who makes actual purchases
- preparers - who transforms the product
into a form
suitable for consumption
- users - who uses or consumes
- maintainers - who services or repairs
- disposers - who initiates the disposal
of a product.
Problems are questions or situations that
uncertainty, risk, perplexity or difficulty. Problem solving is an
process (that should ideally be linked to goals) and involves multiple
decision making that leads to the resolution of a problem. In resource
management, problem solving entails some risk/difficulty, while
making applies to all situations.
Problem Definition - Usually, you become
a problem when motivated by dissatisfaction with the current state of
Problem awareness and analysis are influenced by these motivational
the problem solver’s needs/motives/goals, perceptions and beliefs,
resources and learning/background/past experience.
Uncertainty and Risk - Rational people reduce
risk, though it is subjectively defined in terms of level. Uncertainty
is the state/feeling of being in doubt, while risk is the actual
of harm/loss/pain. One’s perception of uncertainty leads to perception
of risk. The idea is to reduce risk through analysis and study, and to
decrease uncertainty through the same processes.
- Definition, Analysis and Plan of Action
need to be defined, and this is a creative process requiring one to see
common threads, and causal links. Problems may be best defined as
(David Nylen), and this may be difficult, especially for complex
which have multiple or hidden causes.
- Problem Analysis – problems can be seen
as messes or
as experiences requiring logical responding, maybe with decision models.
- Plan of Action – planning involves
activities/steps to follow to provide satisfaction to problem solvers.
This depends on motivation, which in turn, depends on the discrepancy
the desired and actual state and the importance of the problem.
- Search for information – internal
search involves looking
within oneself, while external search involves gathering information
family, friends, media and other resources.
Five Main Types of Risk
These are children who engage in high-risk
behaviors or are in “jeopardy of not growing into responsible adults
who can effectively parent, work or vote” (Dryfoos, 1991).
School-based curricula and programs may help dealing with educational,
health and life issues of high-risk children (e.g. Home and Career
Skills – HCS – in New York). Helping children
make good decisions at an early age is a good starting point.