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Decisions Lead to Mental Exhaustion

Posted Aug 24 2008 2:14pm
I don't know about you but shopping for groceries or just about anything else is getting more mentally difficult. Maybe I am beginning to experience the stereotypical ageing process by turning into my parents but things are getting too dang complicated!

In the old days you would walk into the grocery store and choose some particular item from a limited selection of a few items. Now the sky's the limit when it comes to market segmentation and differentiation.

In other words I am getting sick and tired of reading 30 labels in order to select the right can of tomatoes. I usually pick the wrong one anyway and have to go back and get the right one. Marketers = 1; Me = 0. And tomatoes is just the tip of the complexity iceberg. Everywhere I turn there are a myriad of decisions to make.

Lately I have been feeling more mentally exhausted from making all of these decisions. If you also feel that way we are not alone.

In fact there is some new research supporting the idea that making a lot of decisions leads to mental exhaustion.

Kathleen D. Vohs, PhD, and her research team from the University of Minnesota's marketing department, recently examined the effects of making lots of decisions on mental performance. They set up a makeshift shopping mall and divided the subjects into 2 groups. One group just considered a number of objects, the other group had to make decisions about buying objects. Both groups then had to complete tasks that required them to be focused.

The research team also had the subjects perform math problems and even took them to a shopping mall to make decisions about buying things.

In all of the scenarios the results showed that mental performance decreased after making numerous decisions. It turns out the making decisions is more mentally taxing than just thinking about things.

I see this as more evidence leading to the idea that information is a real substance. In other words the information contained in an object can be described in terms of a series of decisions. These decisions are real physical entities. Rolf Landauer, a physicist proved that information and energy are linked. So making a decision defines the information in an object and expends energy.

I'll bet if someone did a PET scan or functional MRI of subjects thinking versus making decisions they would find that making decisions causes more neuronal activity.

It looks like we are stuck with making more and more decisions in today's society and there appears to be no end in sight.

You just have to spend some time meditating or just thinking to overcome the mental exhaustion.

I think I'll just watch more mind-numbing TV!


American Psychological Association (2008, April 15). Too Many Choices -- Good Or Bad -- Can Be Mentally Exhausting.

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