Thursday, May 10, 2012

What causes Poor Judgement?

I have been thinking about this issue since several years ; My thoughts about this issue were triggered by the copious evidence of poor judgement displayed by  my friends, relatives and others whom I know(and me too at times!)

Why are poor judgements and poor choices 'repeatedly' made by  people with (a)at least average level of  intelligence, (b)education(at least a Bachelor's degree) and inspite of (c) being surrounded by well meaning and sensible advisors/friends? 
 Why do these  people refuse to learn or change when they fail? Why  do they continue to show the same poor judgement and poor choices which leads them  to further failure?
Is Judgement a cognitive function like intelligence or is it a personality trait or is it something affected by emotions and intelligence & your current harmone level? Is poor judgement something you learn or  is it something you are born with? 
Is it  poor judgement or is it just sheer bad luck? (It cant be bad luck if it happens again and again)

The reason poor judgement bothers me so much is that I have seen heads of Indian families (as heads, they control the money, decision making power and power over the lives of all other family members) with poor judgement shattering the lives of everyone in the family... not once or twice but for decades !  Sometimes even the  'as-yet unborn' generation is affected by the poor judgment skills of these tyranical heads of families !

Just looking around half a dozen families I know intimately, I can come up with several examples of poor judgement! Extrapolating from this, the extent of poor judgement in the Indian middle class population seems to be about 50%  or more!

While I am not going to write about the details of poor judgements I have observed, I am going to guess at the factors driving their poor judgement decisions. These are just my guesses. I hope this list will help me to get insight into my own behaviour and help me recognize if I am falling into a pattern of making poor choices or showing poor judgement.

(1)Greed and the intense desire to get rich quick seems to be the motivation behind the poor judgements and decisions of a couple I know.They might have also been driven by the (2)desire to out-do their relatives and friends. The sad part is that they are now in a severe financial mess which in turn has lead to health, emotional and social problems.

(3)Poor planning and (4) poor knowledge of the matter they are getting into is another factor. India is one place where 'informed decision making' is conspicious by it's absence! People make major decisons involving lakhs of rupees with little or no knowledge of what they are investing in. Why dont people  try to get as much information as possible before they get involved in something? I can think of a few reasons why. (5)Impulsivity,(6) Impatience, (7)inability to think things through are behaviours observed in some of the people with poor judgement. They do not have the patience to research something fully before diving into it. It may be a business venture; it may be selection of a course which determines your career for your life; it may be selection of your spouse. People have bought expensive new cars with little or no research done before buying! (8)Absence of available and accessible information also prevents people from being fully informed before they make a decision. This is really sad as these people are really not responsible if they make a poor choice and face  failure...they could not access information to make wiser decisions. There are people in rural areas, people in poor sections of society in India who have no access to English, no access to sensible or educated advisors, no access to the internet, no access to information through the mass media. At least 50% of people in India or more fall into this category.
 Many people in villages have been misguided  either deliberately by malicious and evil persons or by well-meaning but unwise people. The money lenders who loan huge sums of money to farmers knowing that they will default are the malicious ones for example. The aged farmer who tells the younger one that it will "definitely rain" and to go ahead with the seed sowing during a drought year would probably be the well-intentioned one who misguides people unintentionally.
 People have become victims of poor judgement displayed by others who control their lives. Forced Arranged Marriages which fail is a perfect example. The bride or groom have no say about whom they can marry and have to marry the person chosen for them by their parents or other elders. If the marriage does not work, then, they become victims. While some brides and grooms can be assertive and  can successfully have a say in their marriages, many brides from rural areas, from repressive and autocratic families do not really have a chance. A student who has no aptitude for medicine but forced to study medicine by his father and who fails in his studies and ends up as a drop out is another example of becoming a victim of someone else's poor judgement.
(9)Lack of common sense is another cause of poor judgement. I am sure dear reader, you can come up with several examples of your own for this.
I have seen several people in India who will(10) not go to professionals or professionals with a good reputation to get their work done. They try to do it with the help of amateurs or unskilled people and have huge losses and failures. Yet they never learn! I remember a couple with no business experience start a business of exports. They went to a professional consultant who warned them to avoid expanding the business too rapidly. Yet this couple thought the professional was a fool and did not listen to them. They went ahead, made all the mistakes the consultant had warned them about and crashed really badly. Not trusting professionals is a major type of poor judgement displayed by majority of the people I know.(Including me!) I have seen people take the advise of a nurse over a doctor's; Patients and their families prefer to take the advise of the janitor  in the hospital than consult a doctor!
(11)Belief in superstitions, belief in God to the extent that one jumps off a plane without a parachute, belief in astrology, black magic,Maya and Mantras are all the basis of several people's poor judgements in India. Praying at the temple daily instead of studying to pass in an exam; donating to a temple or spending time and money on religious rituals instead of making sensible and  reliable plans for a venture are some common  examples of poor judgement. One example is of a friend of mine whose business started failing and instead of analyzing why the business is failing and doing something to repair that, he went to a Vaastu consultant. The Vastu guy told my friend that the garage was bringing them bad luck and their luck would improve after they demolished the garage. He went ahead and demolished the garage! But no luck with the business! I can give hundreds of examples of people who have made major decisions based on such superstitious beliefs and brought on tremendous ruin upon themselves.(I am no exception! )
A sad example of poor judgement which I have seen repeated in at least 3 different households is an astrologer telling one of the daughters in the family that she will marry a rich person. The girl believes this to the extent that she refuses to marry though she gets several 'decent' proposals by arguing  that they are not rich enough. As these families  were only into arranged marriages and the girls did not have a chance to meet and choose their own husband, ( in the 1970s and 1980s) they remained unmarried for life. Not only that, their younger sisters too could not most families the younger one cannot marry until the older one is married off;( if the younger one gets married before the older one, then it is impossible for the older one to get married as people would suspect "something" is wrong with the older one!) There are these women, now in their fifties, who remain single, due to the poor judgement and sutbborness shown by one elder sister!
What is the cause of this poor judgement i.e. this irrational (or least a belief leading to failure) and strong belief in superstition? I really do not know....It does not amount to a delusional disorder or schizophrenia as they are doing well in all other areas. I think it is an immature or childish magical belief one has...that a miracle is going to happen and I dont have to work hard and plan sensibly...God will take care of it sort of thing; Or the astrologer has predicted such a wonderful irresistable thing (you will marry a rich guy) that you WANT & WISH it to be true and will reject all guys you perceive as not rich as 'not the one for me'. Analyzing myself in these superstitious situations(praying desperately to God and offering up bribes so that I get something I badly want such as a visa to go to USA!) I see myself, at that point in time, experiencing a great deal of anxiety and these prayers and belief that God will help, reduces my anxiety a lot. Once the anxiety reduces, I am able to function. If all people beleive in superstitions for this reason, then anxiety reduction is a major cause of  superstitious beliefs...leading to poor judgement. Ergo, are beliefs in superstitions, Vaastu, Black Magic, Poojas and Rituals, Maya and Mantras, nothing but a type of a ineffective or neurotic-psychotic Ego defence mechanism?

(12)Poor assessment of one's own abilities...usually overestimation of one's capacities coupled with (13)unrealistic optimism is a major cause of poor judgement and consequent failure. My favorite example for this is the millions of PUC/12th grade students in India who opt for engineering, medical, courses, though their scores in PUC/Grade 12 indicate they have little or no hope of success in studying these tough technical courses. I have seen scores of students who could barely get 50% in mathematics of grade 12 level opting to study engineering where the level of mathematics would be tougher. While counselling a few of these students I wondered why they are so stubborn about their 'wrong' choice and not ready to change to a course, more suitable for thier capacities. The driving force for their apparent poor judgement or inappropriate choice of course were : the need to tell that they  got into 'an engineering college' was a tremendous need. Whether they get through engineereing or not at the end of 4 years does not immediatly  matter .....Their 'self-esteem  now' is what mattered. Many students self-esteem was tied to the fact that they are studying engineering or medicine. They do not want to feel like a 'loser' which they will if they do not get into these courses. Hopefully, things have changed in the current century. Now I find more students opting for other courses and their self-esteem does not seem to be tied up to this issue.
I am not saying that one should not try something unless one is sure one wins. But if one has good judgement, one will definitely not go overboard, investing in something where the chances of failing are high.
Poor assessment of the abilities of the people you love, bias, blind trust are also factors leading to poor judgements and decision making, especially where loved ones are involved. Repeatedly believing your alcoholic husband will stop drinking though he has never attempted(but merely keeps promising) is one  example of poor judgement caused by  blind love or blind trust.

I asked my husband what factors cause poor judgement in people and he added two more to this list. (14) Inability to learn from past failures. He said that some people fail to learn from a mistake and keep taking similar decisions, making the same choices over and over again , hoping that the next time, they will miraculoulsy succeed...that their failure was not because of something they did wrong. The second cause of poor judgements according to him is (15)lack of experiencing appropriate emotions when they fail. He called it a mood disorder but I am not sure that I agree with mood disorder. He thinks that these people do not go through the grief, sense of loss and failure when they face the consequenses of their poor decisions but appear to be untouched. Normal people feel distressed when they fail but these people do not seem to be affected by the enormity of the consequences of their failure . I have also seen some of them  recover pretty quickly after a major failure compared to those with good judgement. Are they shallow?  Dont they feel any pain ?I simply cannot understand this.

(16) Many people with poor judgement   do not take responsibility for their failure but blame bad luck, others, etc. They  lack insight about their poor judgement, they are arrogant and free from any qualms! They simply want "another chance". Give them another chance, they mess up again and still want another chance. This goes on till they die... if they are supported by soft-hearted (& soft-headed) families and friends  they never ever learn. I have seen families financially bailing out a family member repeatedly and getting themselves into a financial mess. The guy they are bailing out simply asks to be bailed out one last time and he goes ahead and makes the same stupid things and loses money again! When you ask the guy with poor judgement to review why he failed the last time, to analyze, etc, he does not want to "dwell on the past" but move on to the next venture! This once again shows their impatience,  their superficial approach and their refusla or inability to analyze throughly the  cause of thier failure and inability to make revised plans next time. I have seen this behaviour  in so called "professors" of universities, doctors, etc and so I can imagine how the rest of the world can be. 

Addicts and gamblers seem to show the same  behaviour shown by people with poor judgement:
(17)(a) There is no learning,(b) they make the same mistakes,(c) they cannot change.
 One frequently seen behaviour among people with poor judgement is the fact that they argue and defend their poor decisons and judgements by resorting to the theoritical profits or theoritical successes they would have made if things did not go wrong. I am so sick of hearing these arguments that I want to slap the person ...but usually these statements come from elders whom I cant slap!
"If the orders were not cancelled, I would have made 50 lakh profit"; "If it had rained this year, I would have grown 20 quintals of ragi"; "If that guy hadn't cheated me, I would have finished the construction". The number of  ifs, poor decision makers come up is infinite! 
 Could (18) lack of touch with reality or ìnadequate touch with reality be another cause of poor judgement? I am not saying that these people with poor judgement are schizophrenic or psychotic but they are not as aware of the ground reality as they should be and so they make poor decisions. Lack of touch with the ground reality is one issue which I see very often and which really really perplexes me....When one tries to make some of these people aware of the ground realities and improve their choices or judgement, they continue to be blind or adamant and refuse to acknowledge ground reality...Why? Some  refuse to acknowledge ground realities inspite of warnings because they are so "confident they know better'; some are probably aware but will not admit it to you and make changes for whatever reason(yes men & sycophants dont dare argue with a boss but pretend that his plans are wonderful) Denial,a defence mechanism spoken about by Freud is a major culprit responsible for poor judgement.
 (19) Optimism is one blinker which prevents one from being in touch with ground realities.
(20)Wishful thinking and(21) refusal to even consider things may not go as planned are other factors. Refusal to give a margin for error is one behaviour I have seen in my dad which drives me crazy and leads to such failures.
Patriotic NRIs arriving at India and opening NGOs to help the needy in India and running back to where they came from because they were not aware of the Indian ground reality when they decided to open the NGO is one example I can think of.
(22)Rigid thinking and refusal to change , inflexibility and refusal to change inspite of obvious evidence is another cause of poor judgement. I have seen people repeatedly trust someone who has failed them; stick to an idea inspite of the idea not working out and so on.

There are situations where people have seemingly shown poor judgement. But these are the type of people I love! They are people who have good judgement and know something will fail...yet they go ahead with it because of noble reasons which are really touching. A moving story of poor judgement I read (maybe in the readers digest) was about  a soldier who went back to bring his dying friend during a war. While bringing his friend back, he himself was mortally wounded; he returned to the Base with  his now dead friend . His seargent sorrowfully asked him what was the point in returning to bring back his friend; he surely knew, he would be shot if he went back? The dying man replied, "Going back to bring him was not a waste Sir. My friend's last words to me were"  I knew you would come back for me".
There are people who make certain choices even though they know that it will fail; they make this apparently poor decision or  show poor judgement because "it is the right thing to do". What do you say of such people? That they are showing poor judgement or what?

 Right now in India, corruption is so rampant, that anyone ethical is bound to fail in whatever they try  i.e. he who is ethical  is showing poor judgement! Unethical people, who are morally bankrupt are succeeding in life.

In this wretched India, I feel totally torn....doing what is right is wrong i.e you will fail if you do the right thing.  Doing the wrong thing will help you succeed! What do you do in this situation!!! For example, you will get your site registered only if you pay a bribe; if you dont, you will running to that government registration office for years to come! So do you want to show 'good judgement' and pay the bribe and get on with it or do you do the right thing, refuse to bribe, and be left running pillar to post to simply get your site registered!(By the time you get your plan for your house construction approved, get the water, electricity, sewage, phone connections, will have bribed a dozen or more times!)

 Given the rampant corruption, what is Good Judgement in the Indian setting? The operational definition for Good Judgement in countries and cultures like India would be the statement, "To succeed by hook or crook is evidence of Good Judgement in India".

With the above paragraph, I am trying to tell you dear reader, good judgement is context-based!   Judgement is sensitive to place, time, context, people concerned, etc. What is considered a good judgement in one place, at a certain time, in a certain context, may be considered poor in a different context.

I am adding more to this list of causes of poor judgement when I recall some more. I am stopping for now
One more thing......Could (23)Hope be a cause for poor judgement? Hope is such a tricky, emotion laden thing, that one cannot lightly decide if a certain  decision made because of hope, was a good or  poor decision. One example is of a friend of mine whose son was dying of cancer. While the Canadian hospitals told he has no hope and only a few days to live, the American doctors promised them a "new cure". My friend borrowed a considerable sum of money, took his son to USA for treatment and lost his son inspite of the 'new cure'. He was furious and bitter. He did not want to take the loan as he did not believe in this new cure he said but that he did it to please his wife, the mother of the dying son. Now they had lost thier son and were saddled with a huge loan. They are retired and have to work again to clear this loan. But, how does one, try to 'instil good judgement in them' and  prevent them from taking the loan, when it was to save their son's life?
It's not really easy to decide some people's judgements as bad or foolish. Their bad judgements are based on emotions such as love, hope, kindness, trust, happiness, sadness and I find it so difficult to fault these people!

(24)Stress is another factor leading to poor judgement and poor decisions being made. People seem to loose all reason and make  terribly foolish decisons when under stress.
(25)Any form of emotional disorder, psychological or psychiatric disorders also lead to a person making flawed judgements. One may not be mentally ill but go through emotional problems like anxiety, depression, anger, stress, jealousy, hatred at some point in time...and any judgement made during the experience of these emotions can lead to the judgement being flawed: An anxious motorist will make mistakes  due to wrong judgements when driving; a depressed person will not be able to judge or assess a business plan as well as a calm, undepressed person of equal calibre; a person's jealousy will blind him to the goodness in his rival's personality;
In the context of psychological disorders, I would like to add obsessions as a cause of poor judgement. Let me explain by an actual example......I have a relative who is obsessed with his agricultural land..........he is so obsessed by this land that he neglects all other issues in his life, even priorities such as his daughter's marriage! He has completely lost all sense of what is a priority and what is not...he is unable to put his agriculture work on the back-burner and focus on his daughter's marriage which is in 8 weeks time. (It's not agriculture that he is focussed on...he's focussed on a fool's errand of building a fence round his which is arid and has yielded nothing all these years...everyone has dissuaded him from this task but he is borrowing money, forcing his daughters to lend him money to build this fence....He is not bothered that he has no money for a wedding coming up in 8 weeks time but he is raging about not having money to build this worthless fence!!! I am sure he is mentally ill, considering his age(late 70s, his utter lack of judgement in all that he has done over the past 20-30 years; but as he is the head of his family and extremely autocratic;  it is impossible to question(he does more of these foolish things if anyone questions him and so people have stopped questioning him, except when they can no longer bear it)him and it is almost impossible to live with him; he has spent his entire life, wasting lakhs of rupees in one foolish venture after another; hhe refuses to give up!.......What I am trying ot say here is that mental illnesses can lead to poor judgements; even slight distortions of thinking can lead to poor judgements; one should as often as possible, sit back, observe one's own acts and decisions wiht detachment and check for poor judgement calls; one can also ask others to give an unbiased opinion of what they think of our decisions........take care not to ask this of a sychophant however!
 Even 'positive' emotions such as love can lead to poor judgement. When one is in love or infatuated, one can lose one's objectvity and make poor judgement calls about the person one is in love with! How many 'bright','smart','shrewd' people have been taken for a ride by the person they were infatuated with as they lost their head and their judgement?
 Psychologists have proved through experiments that people make errors when under stress; people make errors when doing multiple tasks simultaneously.


Anonymous said...
Above is a link to an excellent article on poor judgement and causes.
Indian curry

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. Very well-written and insightful. I have made a very bad judgement and all of the reasons you said were very spot on. Well, we just have to learn from it, don't we?

Indian Curry said...

Thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Not much seems to be on the Internet about the reasons and the troubles that result from having a lack of judgment. Only recently have I begun to have my eyes open to the reason for many problems which could be avoided with an ingrained sense of judgment. What one would do in one situation may need to change in another - this is where judgment comes in. For example, if you have children, proper judgment would dictate their needs and not merely what one wants for themselves - is what you do a good example to them, if they are hurting from something going on in school, perhaps moving to a new area after trying all else, should be pursued.

You started well by asking from where it comes. A person may "assume" sound judgment in others. We can see that people have their own "agendas" or selfish points that prevent "hearing" other people out to consider their ideas and feelings. Going blatantly ahead, thinking it doesn't matter or justifying something based on one's own desires doesn't solve the problem. Plus many other things are build when we demonstrate compassion and sensitivity and eventual sacrifice to do for another what would not be needed just for yourself.

Thank you very much for these clear thoughts and examples.