A simulation model shows how individual differences affect major life decisions

Van der Gaag, M. A. E., Van den Berg, P., Kunnen, E. S. & Van Geert, P. L. C., 22-Apr-2020, In : Palgrave Communications. 6, 67, 67.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Individuals are faced with a number of major decisions throughout their lives, including the choice of a suitable education, career, and life partner. Making such ‘major life decisions’ is challenging, as is evidenced by substantial rates of divorce and drop-out from higher education. Although poor major life decisions can lead to considerable costs for both individuals and society, little is known about how people make these decisions. This is because major life decisions are not simple short-term weighings of options – they are strongly intertwined with identity development. Here, we present a simulation model of major life decisions that integrates the short-term perspective of decision science with the long-term perspective of identity theory. We model major life decisions as a process comprising many explorations of available options, resulting in changing commitments, and eventually leading to a decision. Using our model, we run a large-scale in silico experiment, systematically simulating how three key individual characteristics affect the choice process and the quality of the decision: (1) exploration tendency (broad vs in-depth), (2) accuracy in assessing how well options fit, and (3) selectiveness. We identify the types of individuals who are at risk of exhibiting ‘maladaptive’ decision dynamics, including ruminative exploration and rash decision making, and conclude that these features often, but not always, lead to bad decisions. Our simulation results generate concrete predictions that can be empirically tested and may eventually result in individually tailored tools to aid individuals in making major life decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number67
JournalPalgrave Communications
Issue number67
Publication statusPublished - 22-Apr-2020



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