The first person to speak has the most influence.

The first person to speak has the most influence.

Imagine you are waiting to give your view on a subject. You are pretty sure of your conviction that “A” is the best course of action for the group. The first person to speak, perhaps the leader, surprises you by advocating “B”.

The next person in line around the table also says “B”.

And the next.

And the next.

You are fifth in line. Everyone so far has said “B”, followed by nods and grunts of approval from the leader and others.

Do you still have the courage of your convictions? Do you go against the flow and risk approbation and disapproval by saying “A”?

Of course, this is a rhetorical question. The answer would depend on what paths A and B are, and your perceived consequences of either, as well as the dynamics within the group and how much is personally at stake for you.

However, I’m sure you can see how much pressure there would be on you to go along with everybody else and say “B”, despite your internal beliefs.

It is entirely possible that everyone around the table except the first to speak thought the same as you. Perhaps the second to speak was not all that sure though, and went along with the first just to fit in. And that added pressure on the third who did the same. This produced what is known as a “reputational cascade”. This is when each person goes along with the leader, or the first speaker, to avoid the hostility or bad opinion of the rest of the group.

It is easy to see how this could happen. It can be avoided by the leader not giving their views first and by stressing that they want everybody’s honest opinion, regardless of what it is.


Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly – as should anyone who makes important decisions.
One of the problems with being ego-depleted (when the combined resource for mental, emotional and physical effort has been drained) is the difficulty in putting effort into decision making. In this state of ego-depletion you are more likely to fall back on whatever the default option is, rather than investigating all the possibilities and carefully choosing the best one.
Danziger et al studied the timings and decisions of parole judges. Their job was to decide whether a prisoner should be granted parole or not, with the default position being that they should not – that is, they were to be granted parole only if there was a good reason. At the start of the day about 65% of prisoners were granted parole. This gradually went down until, for a period of time before lunch, almost no prisoners would be given it. After lunch the rate went back up to 65% and gradually declined once more. The longer it had been since the judges took a break and food, the more likely they were to defer to the easy option – the default judgement of no parole.
Eating snacks can help to keep the blood sugar level up, resulting in better decision making.
If you make important decisions, make sure your brain is rested and fed enough. You should take regular short breaks and eat something to restore the glucose levels in your blood. Becoming ego-depleted from exertion without rest and fuel means you risk settling for the easy option rather than choosing the correct course of action.

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