The study of the effect of anxiety on decision-making is essential to the psychoanalytic disciplines. It was expected that an individual’s anxious state had a negative effect on choice. The present experiment was a qualitative study of the relationship between the respondent’s anxiety state and decision-making. Data were collected through a structured online questionnaire with ten critical questions related to the participant’s experience among 125 (140) social network users by tree-type participation. The key findings of the experiment were not only confirmation of the hypothesis posed but also an intriguing trend toward greater anxiety among men than women. In addition, it was determined that young people were more likely to experience anxiety when they had a choice to make.
Research in the psychology of decision making is of high practical value. Individuals make multiple choices every day, not all of which ultimately turn out to be correct and beneficial to the individual and society. Consequently, it is of fundamental importance to elucidate the cause-and-effect relationships that describe cognitive mechanisms for decision-making. The findings are expected to help further understand patterns of determination and, as a consequence, to help patients be more proactive and concrete. These studies are particularly relevant for people with high anxiety since the anxious individual is expected to have difficulty making decisions.
It is paramount to emphasize that the decision-making process is a central component in self-regulation and goal attainment processes. The high value of competent choice fully justifies the vast amount of scientific work devoted to research in this area. In an attempt to improve the quality of one’s performance — regardless of context — the individual tries to achieve a better outcome through multiple acts of choice (Marchau et al., 2019). At a certain point, it became clear to science that decision-making belongs to secondary processes and is related to motivation (Mikels & Stuhlmacher, 2020). To put it another way, there is a primary motivation behind any choice. Consequently, any motivational forces that disrupt the sensitive act of human self-determination can also significantly affect the decision-making process. Thus, it is widely known that anxiety is an inhibitory factor and alters a person’s determination (Bishop & Gagne, 2018; Köther et al., 2021). Researchers have shown a state of anxiety to disrupt an individual’s self-control and lead to panic and even helplessness (Jakuszkowiak-Wojten et al., 2017). In this regard, it seems clear that heightened anxiety has a direct impact on decision-making. However, the inverse relationship is also of great scientific interest. It seems that decision-making itself is capable of inducing anxiety in an individual.
In the initial stages of this study, it was of interest to determine the potential relationship between the state of anxiety and the decision-making process. Thus, the working hypothesis of the entire experiment was that anxiety negatively affects choice, resulting in an individual experiencing difficulty making decisions. To find an answer to the problem posed, a qualitative interview study was proposed. Data collection and statistical processing were to show critical trends and were expected to answer the hypothesis fully. The purpose of this report is to summarize the experiment procedure and discuss its potential limitations.
The participants in this study were 125 individuals selected by the non-random sampling method. According to the results, the mean age of the respondents was 27.4 years old, with 36% (no. = 45) of them being male and the rest being female (no. = 80). It is important to note that not all participants knew each other, and taking the survey was completely voluntary.
The central instrument for this cross-sectional study was a structured online interviewing of participants at their request. This format was chosen not only because of the relative ease of subsequent steps in processing and interpreting the results but also because of the need for social distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic (Jones, 2020). The survey structure consisted of ten questions that took into account the individual’s personal experience in recent acts of decision-making. More specifically, a generated link to the online survey was offered to friends through social networking platforms, namely Facebook and Twitter. The mechanics of sending out in such a way as to achieve a tree-like sampling structure, allowing for the minimization of bias and overweighting of results to one side.
After establishing the central purpose of the study and differentiating it into independent objectives, the decision was made to determine the optimal sampling methodology and method for collecting qualitative data. The structure of the ten-question questionnaire, created using Google Forms, was sent out to nine acquaintances of the author, asking them to take this test. Upon completion of the survey, respondents were asked to send the link to two more people via any social networking platform. Once the sample of 140 people was collected: real-time data was displayed in the reporting statistics section, visible only to the author. Initial data filtering was done to weed out any questionnaires filled out incorrectly or incompletely: thus, the final sample size was 125 people. The exported data were uploaded to MS Excel in.xlsx format, after which they were subjected to statistical interpretation processing.
The qualitative data collection procedure was based on categorical variables. In this case, each question had a plurality of independent choices, with answers to the questions offered in advance. The data were processed using cross-tabulations, in which anxiety trends among different demographic groups were assessed separately (Gitlin, 2019). Thus, cross-tabulations were created for people of different ages, genders, and even ethnic backgrounds: this information was collected in the initial section of the questionnaire. After statistical processing, the results were interpreted through histograms and tables to represent the identified trends most helpful.
A key interest of the present study was to determine the validity of the hypothesized effect of anxiety on delayed decision-making. During the experiment, however, it became apparent that there was a need to differentiate trends in addition to the overall finding. Thus, the influence of the anxiety state on the decision-making procedure was studied separately for women and men, as well as for people of different age and ethnic categories. The implications of this experiment are of high practical value, as they allow an unambiguously positive relationship to be established between anxiety and decision-making. This knowledge can be relevant for the professional community of psychologists and mental trainers, helping people to be more proactive and decisive.
However, this study has several significant limitations that may hinder the reproducibility of the results. First, the sample size was large enough, but no representativeness was measured (McCombes, 2021). Second, the state of anxiety was not explicitly labeled for respondents, so a scenario in which different individuals perceived anxiety differently cannot be ruled out. Third, the sample was not properly randomized, which may have affected the quality of the data collected.
The above limitations form the foundation for future projects aimed at deepening the current topic and expanding the scope of the experiment. More specifically, it remains of great interest to identify additional emotional states that may also have an impact on decision-making: fear, panic, and passion. In addition, it is essential to qualitatively measure interpretations of anxiety for individuals to form a specific framework for this state. Finally, it is equally meaningful to conduct research between anxiety and test-retest correctness, especially for the student community.
Bishop, S. J., & Gagne, C. (2018). Anxiety, depression, and decision making: a computational perspective. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 41, 371-388.
Gitlin, J. (2019). How to use cross tabulation to understand different groups of respondents. Curiosity at Work.
Jakuszkowiak-Wojten, K., Raczak, A., Landowski, J., Wiglusz, M. S., Gałuszko-Węgielnik, M., Krysta, K., & Cubała, W. J. (2017). Decision-making in panic disorder. Preliminary report. Psychiatria Danubina, 29(3), 353-356.
Jones, D. S. (2020). History in a crisis—lessons for Covid-19. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(18), 1681-1683.
Köther, A. K., Alpers, G. W., Büdenbender, B., Lenhart, M., Michel, M. S., & Kriegmair, M. C. (2021). Predicting decisional conflict: anxiety and depression in shared decision making. Patient Education and Counseling, 104(5), 1229-1236.
Marchau, V. A., Walker, W. E., Bloemen, P. J., & Popper, S. W. (2019). Decision making under deep uncertainty: From theory to practice. Springer Nature.
McCombes, S. (2021). An introduction to sampling methods. Scribbr.
Mikels, J. A., & Stuhlmacher, A. F. (2020). This time with feeling: Aging, emotion, motivation, and decision making at work. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 13(3), 395-398.