I voted, just now. I completed filled in the ovals for my choices, sealed and signed my ballot, and delivered it personally to an official collection box. BallotTrax will let me know when it’s been received and counted.
I suspect most of us make our decisions on major issues and candidates long before we fill in those little ovals, although there were options on my ballot that needed research (and, yes, I did look up every one of the judges).
And with everything else that’s going on – the pandemic, the wildfires, the economy, and so on – sometimes it’s hard to focus on such decisions. This mental exhaustion I feel, and perhaps you do too, has been the subject of cognitive research. On Amir, an assistant professor at the University of California at San Diego, writes that “the brain is like a muscle: when it gets depleted, it becomes less effective.”
A growing body of research shows that when we focus on a specific decision – such as whether to have a cookie with lunch or go for a walk – we are flexing our “executive function” muscle.
As Amir notes, it turns out that this executive function draws on a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. When this resource is consumed by one activity, our mental capacity for other activities is hindered.
The theory is that unrelated activities, like deciding between the cookie or the walk – or deciding to do both! – can disrupt our abilities to make larger, more important decisions later.
For example, I remember when I was taking college entrance exams (lo, these many years ago). The amount of preparation, focus, and, yes, anxiety of choosing answers left me physically drained, not to mention the mental exertion involved. Researchers recognize that such strenuous cognitive tasks make it harder to focus later on, and I can attest to that.
New research suggests, also, that just the action of making choices, no matter how basic, can deplete the mental resources we need later for major decisions. Amir cites a study in which participants who made more choices while shopping in a mall were less likely to do well solving simple math problems afterward. Researchers found that “tired” minds resisted important decisions.
The real-world implications of this principle are significant: when we are fatigued, we have depleted resources for making decisions. In fact, our decisions are more seriously affected when we are forced to make choices with a fatigued brain.
My guess is that you might have, like I do, a fatigued brain … from deciding whether it’s wise or even safe to get together with friends or visit a relative, for instance, or how to balance work from home and kids at home. Our tired minds make the other choices we face right now even more challenging. So it’s easy, if not comforting, to understand why we might feel paralyzed about ballot decisions.
But I urge you, encourage you, applaud you for doing what it takes to cast your vote thoughtfully, with consideration. Despite so many indications to the contrary, I’m convinced that we can come together to make important decisions for the good of all.
And I don’t just say this because my brain is fatigued. I believe in America, I believe in us.
Andrea Doray is a writer who suggests you sign up for BallotTrax at your county’s Clerk and Recorder’s Office website. Contact Andrea at email@example.com.