It is commonly accepted that people disagree with one each other. In this research, we showed that people disagree with themselves.
Using eight decision-making contexts ranging in familiarity, complexity, and risk, we show that a nationally representative sample of people made choices that were inconsistent across two complimentary methods of decision-making.
People demonstrate higher levels of “internal consistency”—that is the alignment between their choices and their stated values and concerns—when decisions are ‘easy’ or simple, familiar, or come with little risk. However, internal consistency drops sharply when people are confronted with more difficult choices involving unfamiliar, complex, or high-risk problems.
On top of the underlying difficulties people face when trying to make internally consistent choices, providing additional contextual information about alternatives—such as brand names, model information, or the specific components of policy—results in significantly lower levels of internal consistency when compared to situations where this information is withheld.
This research suggests that people rely on simplifying heuristics when making easy decisions; however, this kind of information is less influential when choices are difficult. Importantly, we show that higher levels of education have a significant and positive association with the consistency of people’s choices.