Excerpted fro WSJ: Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions, Sept. 27, 2010
Some people meet, fall in love and get married right away. Others can spend hours in the sock aisle at the department store, weighing the pros and cons of buying a pair of wool argyles instead of cotton striped.
Seeing the world as black and white, in which choices seem clear, or shades of gray can affect people’s path in life, from jobs and relationships to which political candidate they vote for, researchers say.
People who often have conflicting feelings about situations — the shades-of-gray thinkers — have more of what psychologists call ambivalence, while those who tend toward unequivocal views have less ambivalence.
High ambivalence may be useful in some situations, and low ambivalence in others.
And although people don’t fall neatly into one camp or the other, in general, individuals who tend toward ambivalence do so fairly consistently across different areas of their lives.
Now, researchers have been investigating how ambivalence, or lack of it, affects people’s lives, and how they might be able to make better decisions.
Overall, thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is. It’s a “coming to grips with the complexity of the world.”
If there isn’t an easy answer, ambivalent people, more than black-and-white thinkers, are likely to procrastinate and avoid making a choice.
People with a strong need to reach a conclusion in a given situation tend to black-and-white thinking, while ambivalent people tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty.
Because of their strongly positive or strongly negative views, black-and-white thinkers tend to be quicker at making decisions than highly ambivalent people.
Ambivalent people, on the other hand, tend to systematically evaluate all sides of an argument before coming to a decision. They scrutinize carefully the evidence that is presented to them, making lists of pros and cons, and rejecting overly simplified information.