COLUMBUS, Ohio — If you’ve ever wondered about someone’s true nature, place them in a time-critical situation and observe how they act. According to a recent study conducted at Ohio State University in collaboration with Zhejiang University in China, certain personality traits, such as selfishness or pro-social behavior, become more pronounced when an individual is faced with a quick decision.
The results of the study suggest that when people are faced with a quick decision, they tend to stick with what they’ve done in the past. Conversely, if an individual has more time to consider their options they are more likely to behave outside of their conventional behavior patterns.
The study consisted of 102 American and German college students. Participants played 200 rounds of a game commonly used in psychology and economics experiments. Each round, played on a computer, involved the participants choosing between two ways of dividing a real sum of money. Both options favored the player, but one choice shared more of the money with a partner.
“The participants had to decide whether to give up some of their own money to increase the other person’s payoff and reduce the inequality between them,” Krajbich says. “Maybe you’re predisposed to be selfish, but see that you only have to give up $1 and the other person is going to get $20. That may be enough to get you to act more pro-socially.”
The key to the game was that each decision scenario varied, and in some situations participants would have as little as two seconds to make a decision. In other cases, participants had to wait 10 seconds before making a decision, and in come cases there was no time limit at all.
Krajbich and his team say the results indicate a clear difference in people’s decision making processes when given some extra time to consider their options. “People may still approach decisions with the expectation that they will act selfishly or pro-socially, depending on their predisposition. But now they have time to consider the numbers and can think of reasons to go against their bias,” he explains.
The study is published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.