We all know someone who, no matter how long they think things through, still can’t figure out what they want. Whether ordering at a restaurant, making a lifestyle change, or taking action in a relationship, this person will spend hours hemming and hawing. Maybe you’re that person.
If you are, a June 2022 study from the University of Cologne and the Hochschule Döpfer University shows you might have less to worry about than you think (because let’s be honest, you’re already doing enough worrying). While indecisiveness can vary from sometimes inconvenient to full-on debilitating, research shows this wishy-washy trait could be a sign of higher intelligence.
Read on—or don’t. The decision is yours, after all.
Just How Indecisive Are You?
One of the most common ways to measure someone’s indecisiveness is the Frost Indecisiveness Scale. The scale presents 15 declarative statements, such as “I try to put off making decisions” and “I always know exactly what I want.”
An individual then rates these statements on a scale of one to five, one meaning they strongly disagree and five meaning they strongly agree. The higher your score, the more indecisive you are.
Research using this measurement system found that indecisiveness is often a byproduct of perfectionism. An aversion to the shame and guilt associated with an incorrect or negative choice causes these individuals to put off making a decision altogether.
It’s also a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, as found by the creator of the Frost Indecisiveness Scale, Randy O. Frost.
Now, How Ambivalent Are You?
Whereas Frost’s research focused on indecisiveness in general, the more recent study found a better, more accurate metric to use: trait ambivalence. This is defined as one’s ability to remain ambivalent or have mixed feelings.
More specifically, the study observed trait ambivalence in the context of confirmation, which is the tendency to prefer information that’s in accord with our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, regardless of the information presented. Confirmation bias, correspondence bias, and self-serving bias can color our decision-making.
The study found that this form of biased thinking is also less accurate overall. When was the last time you regretted a hasty decision? Many of us are guilty of jumping to conclusions before weighing out all the options. This is essentially the opposite of indecisiveness and arguably just as detrimental in some instances.
The Cost Of Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias prevents us from thinking rationally, blinding us to evidence that doesn’t align with our beliefs. It can create dogmatic or overly-simplistic thinking, but it isn’t the only cognitive maladaptation we frequently use. Correspondence bias is equally as guilty of pulling the wool over our eyes.
Correspondence bias differs from confirmation bias in that the former involves connecting two unrelated things without considering the context. This can be something like assuming someone’s a bad driver because they got into a car accident without considering whether the road conditions were bad.
Similarly, self-serving bias allows us to see what best serves us (and little else). All these types of cognitive dissonance cause us to think and act on misinformation. The study suggests trait ambivalence protects individuals from this way of thinking.
The Perks Of Seeing Pros And Cons
Researchers determined the relationship between trait ambivalence and confirmation through a meta-analysis of multiple studies. The researchers read brief scenarios in each study to assess participants’ biases and assumptions, if applicable.
Researchers found that trait ambivalence “leads to increased associative breadth, higher cognitive flexibility, more accurate judgments, and more awareness and effectiveness in decision-making.”
As long as your indecisiveness isn’t causing fearful paralysis, there’s merit to be found in mulling things over for a bit.
So go ahead and think on it a little while longer. But maybe set a rumination timer, so you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole.