In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision making and decisionmaking) is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several possible alternative options. It could be either rational or irrational. Decision-making process is a reasoning process based on assumptions of values, preferences and beliefs of the decision-maker. Every decision-making process produces a final choice, which may or may not prompt action.
Decision-making can be regarded as a problem-solving activity yielding a solution deemed to be optimal, or at least satisfactory. It is therefore a process which can be more or less rational or irrational and can be based on explicit or tacit knowledge and beliefs. Tacit knowledge is often used to fill the gaps in complex decision-making processes. Usually, both of these types of knowledge, tacit and explicit, are used together in the decision-making process.
Human performance has been the subject of active research from several perspectives:
- Psychological: examining individual decisions in the context of a set of needs, preferences and values the individual has or seeks.
- Cognitive: the decision-making process is regarded as a continuous process integrated in the interaction with the environment.
- Normative: the analysis of individual decisions concerned with the logic of decision-making, or communicative rationality, and the invariant choice it leads to.
A major part of decision-making, involves the analysis of a finite set of alternatives described in terms of evaluative criteria. Then the task might be to rank these alternatives in terms of how attractive they are to the decision-maker(s) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Another task might be to find the best alternative or to determine the relative total priority of each alternative (for instance, if alternatives represent projects competing for funds) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Solving such problems is the focus of multiple-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). This area of decision-making, although very old, has attracted the interest of many researchers and practitioners and is still highly debated as there are many MCDA methods which may yield very different results when they are applied on exactly the same data
. This leads to the formulation of a decision-making paradox. Logical decision-making is an important part of all science-based professions, where specialists apply their knowledge in a given area to make informed decisions. For example, medical decision-making often involves a diagnosis and the selection of appropriate treatment. But naturalistic decision-making research shows that in situations with higher time pressure, higher stakes, or increased ambiguities, experts may use intuitive decision-making rather than structured approaches. They may follow a recognition primed decision that fits their experience, and arrive at a course of action without weighing alternatives.