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Does decision fatigue impact science communication?

One of the more intriguing social psychology theories to emerge in recent years has the potential to impact a wide swath of human activity, from law to corporate governance to weight loss, marketing, and much more. Coined “decision fatigue” by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, this new theory posits that humans possess only a limited reservoir of logical, calculated, rational thinking ability, after which point (whether this is due to glucose depletion or some other mechanism) we are much more likely to start making bad choices. The more decisions we make over a concentrated period of time, the quicker we slide into bad decision making and need to refuel our decision reservoirs (presumably through food and rest, although other mechanisms may also play a role).

This theory may have implications for many areas not yet touched on by Baumeister’s research, including education, communicating complex ideas (like science), crafting policy based on complex ideas, getting scientists to communicate better with each other, and more. For instance, although this is just speculation, is it possible this mechanism helps explain why “keeping it simple” is such an important mantra in technical communication? Easier-to-read materials are easier to comprehend, but perhaps they also lead to better decisions because they don’t fatigue the reader’s brain as much. Anyone want to run with this idea?

Click here to read more from John Tierney’s August 18, 2011 New York Times article describing Dr. Baumeister’s work.

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