Washington: When it comes to decision-making, you may want to choose the wisdom of an ant over the folly of a grasshopper, according to a recent study.
One of Aesop’s famous fables introduces the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, while the dutiful ant toils away preparing for the winter.
University of Connecticut’s Susan Zhu and colleagues add to a growing body of evidence that, although it may seem less appealing, the ant’s gratification-delaying strategy should not be viewed in a negative light.
“This decision strategy can be harder or more time-consuming in the moment, but it appears to have the best outcome in the long run, even if it isn’t fun,” said Zhu.
The ant is what the researchers would call a maximizer. A maximizer is someone who makes decisions that they expect will impact themselves and others most favourably: they seek to “maximize” the positive and make the best choices imaginable. Yet the ant may consider so many variables that the same tendency to maximize benefit may lead to difficulty in making decisions. Previous research suggested this, with maximizers being less happy overall, having higher stress levels, and possibly regretting decisions they made.
Zhu suggested that maximizing has beneficial consequences. “Maximizers are forward thinking, conscientious, optimistic, and satisfied. Though a lot of work and thought go into those decisions, maximizing has beneficial outcomes.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the grasshopper is more of what researchers might refer to as a satisficer (satisfy plus suffice = satisfice) or someone who will be happy with things being “good enough,” who tends to opt for instant gratification and tends to live moment to moment.
“A satisficer will make a decision, feel good about making it, and move on,” noted Zhu.
The ant and the grasshopper are of course extreme examples of each dispositional type, and most people exhibit both qualities. “There tends to be a bell curve and most people fall towards the middle and exhibit aspects of both tendencies,” Zhu added.
To conduct the study, the researchers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or MTurk service, where their survey was given to hundreds of participants, generating a pool of data.
Once data was gathered, researchers crunched the numbers and observed trends. With maximizers, the data suggested a positive relationship with their future-oriented thinking, better money-saving habits, and concern for the future of others.
The main takeaway? Zhu said, “Maximizing can be a good thing. Previous research looked at decision-making difficulty and other negative outcomes, and that added a negative connotation to maximizing tendencies. We’re trying to frame it in light of the high standards and the beneficial outcomes, to help reshape the view of maximizing.”
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, take advice from both the forward thinking ant and the fun-loving grasshopper. Plan for the future, but also have some fun now.
The study appears in Journal of Individual Differences. (ANI)