Decision fatigue occurs due to the mental exhaustion we face from having to make too many decisions. The following factors can contribute to the development of decision fatigue.
People who more frequently have to make decisions based on trade-offs experience decision fatigue more intensely. As an example, those who live in poverty typically have to struggle with trade-offs continually. The average American usually won’t have to struggle over deciding if they can afford soap, but that decision may be more common in, for example, rural India.4
Dean Spears is an economist and researcher at Princeton University. Spears experimented to understand better and document the impact of trade-offs in more impoverished communities and its effect on an individual’s willpower. In 20 different villages in Rajasthan, Spears offered individuals the option to buy bars of soap for the equivalent of fewer than 20 cents, a steep discount in comparison to the typical price.4
Regardless of the cut, the dollar amount was still a straining factor for individuals, especially in the ten most impoverished villages. Additionally, the decision-making effort involved for the more impoverished participants took an amount of mental energy for them to verify if the trade-off was worth the cost. Whether or not the individuals chose the deal and bought the soap, the consideration needed in making the decision left each person with less willpower which was measured later by researchers.4
In comparison, participants from the more affluent villages were not as affected by the decision, and when tested, their willpower wasn’t as tarnished by the previous decision-making task. Researchers believe this was due to their socio-economic background, as they had more money and did not require to assess the trade-offs of buying soap as intensely as those with less money.1
Spears argued that this type of decision fatigue trapped people in poverty, as their financial situations forced them to make more trade-offs when making decisions. The additional decision fatigue experienced by these individuals led to them having less willpower to devote to school work, careers, and other activities then help them achieve middle-class status.4
The recommendation to never go grocery shopping while hungry has actual merit. The impact glucose levels have on decision fatigue was first accidentally discovered by a failed experiment at the Baumeister lab. The brain is better at avoiding decision fatigue when adequately supplied, deriving its energy from glucose, the sugar obtained from a wide variety of food. Researchers at Baumeister’s lab tested the impact of glucose on participants and found that supplying glucose helped individuals mitigate ego depletion and sometimes completely reversed it. The restored willpower people would then develop, would better their ability to self-control, and make decisions.5