Think of What Really Matters: Structured Analysis of Personal Criteria can Save Lives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Helping decisions are susceptible to many biases—partly due to the helpers’ spontaneous emotional reactions to the appeal diverting their attention from the need to maximize the impact of their help. Attempts to overcome these biases by prompting deliberative thinking—namely, by asking participants to think deeply—have often been unsuccessful. Here, we propose a way of directing people’s attention to the most important aspects of their decisions, by asking them to rate the extent to which such attributes should be considered. In two experiments involving real-world crises, participants who underwent such structured analysis of their personal criteria were more likely to make decisions that maximized the number of lives saved. Moreover, their decisions were more in line with their personal values. We conclude that this method is a simple, efficient way of improving the quality of helping decisions in life-and-death situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-899
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • helping/prosocial behavior
  • individual differences
  • thinking styles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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