Glossary of Terms and Definitions

Glossary of Terms and Definitions

Looking to better understand some of the key terms used in Decision Education and Decision Science? We hope the following list helps. Let us know if there are words or concepts you’d like our network of experts to address or explain in greater detail:


Active Open-Mindedness:

being open to seeking new evidence that deepens, refines, or recalibrates our beliefs. A willingness to question our first assumptions and accept that initial judgments may be flawed, or limited by incomplete information.

Affect Heuristic:

reacting as a result of an emotional response to a trigger or event rather than considering your response.

Anchoring Effect:

placing too much emphasis on the first piece of information we receive, regardless of how relevant it is.

Attribution Error:

tendency to overestimate personality-based factors when explaining others’ behaviors and overestimate situation-based factors when explaining one's own behaviors

Availability Heuristic:

creating an incorrect picture of reality in our mind by overly accessing examples of events that are highly memorable or emotionally charged.

Balcony View:

taking the outside view of our own decision, enabling a more objective and less emotional perspective. (also known as: the Outside View)

Bandwagon Effect:

being influenced by what others are doing and saying, and joining in, rather than thinking or behaving on our own.

Base Rate:

a number that represents the prevalence of similar characteristics in a population. It provides information on how likely an event might be.

Base Rate Neglect:

ignoring available base rate information that could help us make solid predictions, and instead over- or underestimating what we think will happen.

Behavioral Science:

the study of human behavior through the use of systematic experimentation and observation.

Bias Blind Spot:

noticing the biases in others’ reasoning, but failing to pick up on our own such biases.

Clarifying Values:

clarifying what matters to us, and determining what we really want out of a specific decision.

Cognitive Biases:

errors in thinking or judgment that happen when we are processing and interpreting information. They often lead to distorted views, illogical interpretations, or irrational beliefs.

Cognitive Miserliness:

the tendency of the human brain to solve problems in the simplest or most straightforward way, rather than thinking more deliberately to improve reasoning. The brain creates shortcuts, or heuristics, to conserve energy.

Confirmation Bias:

seeking out, or looking more favorably on, information that supports what we already think, and rejecting or ignoring information that refutes what we think. We confirm our beliefs at the risk of failing to be objective about facts.

Decision Analysis:

a systematic and quantitative approach to addressing and evaluating the important choices that individuals and groups face.

Decision Churn:

the inevitable revisiting of decisions that were not well considered or understood in the first place.

Decision Education:

the K-12 teaching and learning of skillful judgment formation and decision-making. It is comprised of four learning domains: Thinking Probabilistically, Valuing and Applying Rationality, Structuring Decisions, and Recognizing and Resisting Cognitive Biases.

Decision Education Domains:

the four categories of Decision Education skills that provide the foundation for students to make decisions proactively and rationally. They include: Thinking Probabilistically; Valuing and Applying Rationality; Structuring Decisions; and Recognizing and Resisting Cognitive Biases.

Decision Frame:

the boundary, or parameters, that provide clarity about what is, and is not, being decided. (see also: framing)

Decision Maker:

a person or group considering their values, options and likelihoods regarding a specific decision. OR: the person who has the final authority or ownership over a particular decision.

Decision-Making Process:

a reflective and deliberate process that guides us through distinct steps to drive better decisions. Such a process helps us understand our values, develop options for a course of action, analyze the options probabilistically and reflect upon a choice made for a specific decision.

Decision Journal:

a personal record of our more significant decisions. It enables us to record and reflect on key elements of the decisions we make, with the aim of improving our decision-making.

Decision Paralysis:

a state in which we cannot seem to make a decision because every option available presents a challenge, or an unresolvable tradeoff between options.

Decision Science:

a multi-disciplinary approach to improving decision-making. It is grounded in analytics, and integrates cognitive and behavioral sciences, with data and risk analysis.

Decision Skills:

mental techniques, tools, habits, and dispositions that can improve judgment and the quality of decision-making.

Decision Tradeoff:

Rejecting one option and its potential outcomes by choosing another option.

Decision Traps:

thinking errors that diminish the quality of your decision-making. (see also: cognitive biases)

Decision Tree:

a diagram or chart that helps decision-makers think probabilistically about the outcomes of their decisions. It is particularly useful for highly complex decisions.


habits of mind, attitudes, or cognitive tendencies that support skillful decision-making.


a key part of the decision-making process that calls for us to express how the option we chose is the one that best fits our values, and will provide the greatest opportunity for success or happiness.


a mistaken belief, or the use of invalid or otherwise faulty reasoning.

Fast and Slow Thinking:

terms coined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman to describe the two ways the brain manages decisions and judgment formation. Fast Thinking is used for judgments or decisions we are barely aware we’re making. This thinking is quick, unconscious, intuitive, and automatic. Slow Thinking is used for consciously forming judgments and making decisions. This thinking is logical, evaluative, deliberative, and effortful. (see also: System 1 & 2 Thinking)


the technique of using current and historical data to make more informed estimates in determining a future outcome or trends.


a key part of the decision-making process that calls for us to create a boundary around or express what we are, and are not, making a decision about.

Framing Effect:

being influenced not by information or data, but by how the information is described or presented (framed).

Fundamental Attribution Error:

believing our own actions are the result of circumstances, but attributing the actions of others to factors of personality.

Gambler’s Fallacy:

incorrectly ascribing order or patterns to random events, and believing that what happened previously matters to the outcome.

Game Theory:

the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends on the actions of other participants.

Gathering Information:

one part of a decision-making process. Requires the decision maker to seek out credible, current, and balanced sources to acquire key information that may be relevant to an important decision.

Generating Options:

a key part of the decision-making process that calls for us to develop multiple appealing options from which to choose. These options should be under our control, and significantly different from one another.


thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages independent thinking and creativity, or individual responsibility.

Habit Loop:

a neurological progression that governs any habit. The loop consists of four elements: a cue, a craving, a response, and a reward. Understanding these elements can help in understanding how to change bad habits or form better ones.

Halo Effect:

assuming that positive impressions of someone or something in a particular area means that they excel in other areas as well.


mental shortcuts that our brains use to reduce complexity in judgment and choice. This differs from cognitive biases, which are the systematic errors in our thinking that sometimes occur as a result of heuristics.

Hindsight Bias:

believing that past events were more predictable than they really were. Saying things like “I just knew that would happen,” and believing it.

In-Group Bias:

making an assumption about someone or something based on the “group” we see them being a part of or excluded from.

Intellectual Humility:

remaining open to new information, and exhibiting a willingness to learn from the experience or expertise of others. Demonstrating a mindset that entertains the possibility of being wrong.


the capacity and process to discern what is true, how the world works, and what to believe about it.

Loss Aversion Bias:

placing greater value on avoiding losses than on attaining potential equivalent gains. Nobel Laureate and cognitive bias expert Daniel Kahneman says that the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of winning the same amount.

Mental Accounting:

assigning subjective value to our money depending upon how we earned it, how we intend to use it, and how it makes us feel.


awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes.

Mind Traps:

Another phrase used to describe cognitive biases. (see also: cognitive biases)


the ability to understand and work with numbers.

Objective Probability:

the likelihood of an event occurring in a situation that is clearly defined, with parameters that are known with certainty. An example would be a randomly flipped “fair” coin.

Overconfidence Bias:

having more confidence in our own abilities, skills, and character than is warranted. Or overestimating the likelihood of things we hope will happen.

Polarized Thinking:

instinctively simplifying things to the extreme—it’s black or white, good or bad, always or never—with no room for gray areas or other possibilities in between. (also known as: black-and-white thinking)


a tool to help learn about a past incident, decision, or project. It typically involves a candid, blame-free session to review what went well, what was not as effective, or what contributed to total failure. The objective is to improve, moving forward.

Predicting Outcomes:

thinking about the likelihood that each outcome will happen in terms of probability. And then determining how much you care about each of the outcomes.


a tool that helps you figure out what could go wrong before it actually does. Decision makers use premortems to consider possible factors that could contribute to the failure of a decision or project. It enables them to be proactive by gathering more information, switching strategy, looking for other options, or changing the decision frame entirely.

Present Bias:

focusing on immediate gratification rather than having the patience to wait for bigger future rewards. (also known as: temporal discounting)

Probabilistic Thinking:

consistently making estimations, considering likelihoods, and assessing confidence about information regarding the past, present, and future. Probabilistic thinking recognizes the nature of uncertainty in the world, helping resist overconfidence and polarized thinking.

Probability Neglect:

reacting to the emotions of the possibility and not the statistical probability that an event will actually happen. With this cognitive bias, small risks can be exaggerated, and large risks can be ignored.

Prospect Theory:

the concept that people assess their losses and gains disproportionately. (see also: Loss Aversion Bias)


adopting goals that are aligned with our values, forming beliefs based on evidence, making decisions consistent with our beliefs and values, and taking action to pursue life goals using the best means possible.


taking time to consider our previous thinking during a decision-making process, and refining our process based on what we realize or discover. (see also: metacognition)

Regret Aversion:

The tendency to avoid making a decision as a result of fearing that the outcome will produce regret, or choosing an option that eliminates or minimizes the risk of regret.

Representativeness Heuristic:

comparing something new to something we already know, and quickly assuming that they are similar without realizing it. These quick connections are often wrong.


a logical fallacy where we erroneously evaluate the quality of our decisions based on the outcome they achieve, rather than on the quality of the process used to make them. We judge a decision process as good if the outcome was good or judge a decision as poor if the outcome was undesirable.

Sample Size Neglect:

failing to realize that the evidence upon which we are basing a judgment or decision is pulled from too small a group, or sample size, to be meaningful.


the disciplined recognition and honest reflection of the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. It is a deliberate effort to incorporate the current context and past experience in order to improve understanding of motivations, goals, and preferences. Self-awareness acknowledges the limitations of our cognitive abilities and emotional control, and is a lifelong pursuit.


managing our actions and making decisions on our own, independent of prescribed pathways.


the ability to monitor and manage our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that promote healthy results in learning, relationships, and achieving our goals.

Subjective Probability:

calculating the likelihood that an event occurs based on personal opinion. This type of probability is not data-driven.

Sunk-Cost Fallacy:

remaining committed to something we have already invested time, effort, or money in, even if the ongoing costs outweigh the benefits.

System 1 & 2 Thinking:

the System 1 function of the brain (Fast Thinking), is used for decisions made throughout the day that we barely register. This thinking is fast, unconscious, intuitive, and automatic. The System 2 function of the brain (Slow Thinking) is used for consciously processing and making decisions. This thinking is rational, logical, evaluative, deliberative, and effortful.

Taking Action:

acting on a decision means behaving in ways that align with our goal and values.

Temptation Bundling:

combining something we want to do with something we should be doing. Example: Watching ESPN only when we are at the gym working out.

Time Horizon:

how far into the future a decision maker looks when evaluating the consequences of a proposed action.


a mindset that leads us to try to understand the world as it actually is, rather than as we might wish it to be, by asking probing questions and pursuing evidence even when it challenges our beliefs.


the complex emotional and cognitive response experienced in situations involving chance, insufficient information, or inadequate analysis.


a decision-making tool that identifies criteria, weighs their importance, and then rates how well each option satisfies that criteria.

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