During emergencies, when lives are at stake, decisions need to be made quickly. Hesitance and a reluctance to choose a course of action can have serious consequences.
PhD student Nikki Power, from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, is investigating how and why members of the emergency services sometimes find themselves unable, or reluctant, to make a decision and what can be done to prevent this happening.
In an ideal world, decisions can be made rationally by weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of every option. In real life, however, people often do not have enough time to do this. When put under pressure like this, individuals can find themselves unable to come to a decision, resulting in long, often costly, delays. Psychologists refer to this as ‘decision inertia.’
Nikki is working with the Merseyside Fire and Rescue service at Croxteth, Liverpool to study how decision-makers react during an emergency. Over the course of a 12-hour live simulation of an urban search and rescue operation, Nikki will use video footage to study the behaviour of the strategic decision-making team, made up of representatives from each emergency service.
Nikki explains: “By watching the group’s interactions over the 12 hours, I hope to identify any instances of ‘decision inertia’ and study their causes. I’ll also look at the ways people respond to it; for example, they may unnecessarily seek more information in order to avoid making a decision.
“I will also interview the participants to find out how they felt during the incident so I can understand the psychological processes that may cause complications in the decision-making stages.
“If we can learn to recognise how ‘decision inertia’ manifests then we can work out how to identify it in the future and take actions to prevent it happening.
“Past experiences of similar situations can, in some cases, impact upon an individual’s ability to make a decision. An improved understanding of ‘decision inertia’ may help us prevent it occurring as frequently in crucial moments.”
Nikki recently presented a summary of her work at the University’s Poster Day 2013. She won 2nd place in the Health and Life Sciences category for her poster entitled ‘Decision Inertia: Researching what it means, how it manifests and why it occurs during critical and major incident management’.