Why do people make such poor "in the moment" decisions?

What’s Next After “Whack-a-Hazard” or “Whack-a-Person”?

My friend Jennifer is risk adverse, so much so that she won’t travel overseas because she says “bad things happen to people in other countries”. So imagine my intrigue, when she told me she could have died doing the school run, picking up her daughter!

On this day, she was running late. The school has a strict pick-up time (3.15 pm) and her daughter doesn’t have a mobile phone so she doesn’t know whether mum’s forgotten her or worse still, something bad happened. This makes Jennifer stressed.

It’s now 3.15pm and still 5 minutes away from her daughter. She needs to make a right turn into a side street across two lanes of traffic. Most days there are plenty of breaks in the traffic, but not today. The traffic is particularly heavy making it difficult to turn. She waits impatiently. The pressure builds. Suddenly a gap in the traffic appears. It’s much smaller than she would normally accept but she’s stressed. She quickly turns the steering wheel and “floors it”. She makes it but not before she hears the blast of a truck horn and the screeching of tyres.

She knows she was lucky and heads to school for the pick-up.

This story highlights a common problem, why do people make such poor “in the moment” decisions?

Why would Jennifer, a very risk-adverse person, act so out-of-character?

Why do people who know the risks associated with road tolls, still drive when fatigued? They have seen the ads!

Why do people who know texting while driving is illegal and increases the risk considerably, still do it?

In these situations the conscious mind is fully informed, but they still do it. Could it be that the conscious mind is not involved with these types of “in the moment” decisions in any significant way?

There are additional forces at play influencing us under these situations which we have never been aware of …. until recently. Much of this information has only come to light in the last 10 years or so, some of it in the last 5 years.