Hoarding toilet paper? Storing gasoline in plastic bags? When it comes to human behavior, “95 percent of your decision-making comes subconsciously,” says Alexa V. ’23. Curious to learn more about what drives these seemingly illogical choices, the sophomore (now a rising junior) conducted an independent study on emotional decision-making, presenting her findings via Zoom to a group that included teachers, advisors, and administrators.
Alexa’s e-book, “Decisions, Decisions: An Exploration into the Effect of Emotions on Decision-Making” is available on Amazon Kindle. The 19-page book is written in an accessible, conversational style with engaging infographics. Members of the St. Anne’s-Belfield community may contact firstname.lastname@example.org and a copy will be sent to you free of charge.
Q&A with Alexa V. ’23
What surprised you about your independent study?
My independent study is about the behind the scenes of decision-making and how different factors of emotions affect the way your brain makes decisions. Going into the project I just thought emotions cause you to choose to do certain things. It turns out our brains are just doing it for us subconsciously without us even knowing, which was really interesting to find out from my research. A lot of times if you're thinking about things like risk, you're doing it more consciously and thinking about what is the outcome of your decisions. But the smaller decisions that we make on a daily basis, we don't even really think about.
How did you come across this idea for an independent research study?
This is kind of a funny story. I was inspired by all the media about COVID last year and seeing how people were feeling the need to go buy all the toilet paper they could. It seemed slightly irrational on the outside, so I wanted to learn more about what their thought process was on the inside. Not to downplay anyone’s fears, because to them it felt very real. But I thought it was interesting how people were just so scared of running out of toilet paper that they were going to do what was best for them and buy all the toilet paper even though other people still needed it too.
So that's what sparked it, but also I'm very much of an overthinker. I'm always trying to determine what is the “right” decision to make. But what I’ve learned is that what feels right in the moment might not end up being right for what you wanted in the grand scheme of things.
How has doing this research study changed how you're going to make decisions?
Honestly, 95% of our decision-making comes subconsciously so it's really hard to say that I'm going to be actively thinking about every decision I make. But I think the interesting thing is the self-awareness that comes with it. I'm noticing how I make a decision and then afterwards I can really think about what was going on in my brain. Even if in the moment I didn't couldn't identify what motivating factor was driving that. You entered this research process as an overthinker.
Do you think this will make you even more of an overthinker?
Yes and no. I think it will definitely make me more of an overthinker if I'm thinking about big decisions. But also I've realized from this that you can't control all the decisions you make. So in that sense I'm a little bit more go with the flow with my decisions.
What was your biggest “a-ha!” moment?
Money doesn’t motivate as much as you think. Joy and fulfillment matter more, and that emotional component can’t be measured.
As a teen, what's a takeaway you think other teens could use?
People who were in a happy mood before taking a test had 50% better performance!