Cornflakes or oatmeal? Blazer or full suit? Snap up a project or turn it down?

While not all of your decisions are going to be earthshattering, the number of choices you have every day is impressively high. And apparently, your approach to those decisions is determined, at least in part, by your genes.

As detailed in the April 2019 edition of the Journal of Business Research, a team led by Gad Saad compared monozygotic and dizygotic twins to see how their decision-making styles lined up. Their first study used two psychometric tests, the General Decision Making Scale (GDMS) and the Maximizing-Satisficing Inventory (MAX). Monozygotic twins not only showed more similarity along three GDMS subscales, but also greater similarity in overall GDMS and MAX scores.

But since psychometric tests really only measure potential or suitability, rather than what someone actually ends up doing in real life, the researchers did a second study to see if the inventories were consistent with behaviors. Participants had to gather information and make real choices in a computerized setting. There wasn't a difference between the two types of twins in terms of selectivity and pattern of searches. But monozygotic twins were more similar than dizygotic twins in regard to how much information they looked for before they made a decision.

Currently, business leaders are becoming increasingly aware that biological elements like sleep and diet can influence brain function and cognitive processes involved in choice. But this study set suggests that some of us might have a DNA script that makes us prone to particular decision-making preferences and habits over others.

This doesn't necessarily mean that two people will come to "worse" or "better" conclusions, per se. But it does imply that some people might struggle or be more comfortable with certain choice strategies on a genetic level, and that those differences might influence who finds success and who doesn't.

But this raises a critical ethics question. Genetics is tricky business, with some genes influenced by others and turned on or off by environmental factors. So it will take more time and research before we really identify the specific gene or genes that determine choice. But would it be possible someday to perhaps edit out the components that lead to specific decision-making styles perceived to be less beneficial, to create, if you will, a designer CEO?

And let's pause for a moment to think how this can mess with your perception of consciousness and free will. We tend to see decisions as options connected to our autonomy. You pick Door A over B, for example, and so plot your life, right? But if your genes contribute to how you come to a conclusion, then maybe your path is more in your double helix than metaspace.

As a final consideration, let's remember that having something in your genes doesn't always mean you're stuck. You can be predisposed to cancer or diabetes, for example, but still reduce your risk of developing either of those with great self-care. We also know that the brain has incredible plasticity. So it might be that we still can overcome the decision-making style we're set up for and encode our brains to operate differently in choice situations through consistent, repeated behaviors.

For now, I'll just focus on cornflakes versus oatmeal. The scientists can figure out the rest.

Published on: May 1, 2019
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