The psychology of doing nothing: forms of decision avoidance result from reason and emotion

Psychol Bull. 2003 Jan;129(1):139-67. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.1.139.


Several independent lines of research bear on the question of why individuals avoid decisions by postponing them, failing to act, or accepting the status quo. This review relates findings across several different disciplines and uncovers 4 decision avoidance effects that offer insight into this common but troubling behavior: choice deferral, status quo bias, omission bias, and inaction inertia. These findings are related by common antecedents and consequences in a rational-emotional model of the factors that predispose humans to do nothing. Prominent components of the model include cost-benefit calculations, anticipated regret, and selection difficulty. Other factors affecting decision avoidance through these key components, such as anticipatory negative emotions, decision strategies, counterfactual thinking, and preference uncertainty, are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Psychology*
  • Thinking / physiology*