We live in an age of information. In theory, we can learn everything about anyone or anything at the touch of a button. All this information should allow us to make super-informed, data-driven decisions all the time.
But the widespread availability of information does not mean that you actually use it even if you have it. In fact, decades of research in psychology and behavioral science find that people readily make data-poor snap judgments in a variety of instances. People form lasting impressions of others in the span of milliseconds, evaluators judge teachers in less than a minute and consumers make shopping decisionsbased on little deliberation. Even voting decisions can seemingly be predicted from preliminary impressions formed during incredibly brief time periods.
If these findings seem remarkable to you, recent research by my colleague and me suggests that you are not alone. The immediacy of human judgment generally surprises people. Individuals fail to anticipate how little information they and others use when making decisions.
And this disconnect can have implications in daily life: After all, recognizing how much – or little – information people actually use to make judgments and decisions could influence how much you try to share with others. A job candidate should have a sense of how much of her resume prospective employers will actually read so she can prioritize her efforts accordingly.