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Neurotics Are Better at Faster Decisions

Study shows speed accuracy trade-offs don’t occur for highly neurotic people

Photo by Lochie Blanch on Unsplash, edited by future.nostalgia
Cricket study shows neuroticism changes speed-accuracy tradeoff assumptions
Source: Photo by Lochie Blanch on Unsplash, edited by future.nostalgia

How great would it be if you could make fast and accurate decisions?

Unfortunately, for a lot of us, making quicker decisions comes with a major negative: we become less accurate the more we rush. Psychologists call this the speed accuracy trade-off. The rule basically states that we can be speedy or we can be accurate, but we can’t be both. An increase in one requires a decline in the other.

But is this true for everyone?

A study by Bell, Mawn, and Poynor shows that a moderating personality trait reverses this relationship.

TLDR: People high in neuroticism see an improvement in decision-making accuracy when they reduce their response time.

The study

196 elite young cricketers from the United Kingdom were recruited by the authors to participate in the experiment.

Participants were asked to complete a computer-based decision-making task related to the sport of cricket. Each player was shown batting scenarios based on television footage from the 2009 World Cup and was asked to “respond as fast as possible without making an error in of judgement”. They were given 0.5 seconds before having to choose between two alternatives: working a single or attempting to hit the boundary (the cricket equivalent of hitting a home run in baseball). The response time between the presentation of the options and the selection of an option was recorded. The accuracy of the decision was decided by four qualified cricket coaches.

Each participant also filled out the neuroticism subscale of the International Personality Item Pool to determine how neurotic they were.

Ultimately, these variables were recorded so researchers could observe the relationship between response times and response accuracy, and then determine if neuroticism was a moderating variable.

The results

Response time by itself was not a significant predictor of accuracy. However, neuroticism predicted accuracy, and the interaction between response time and neuroticism was also predictive of the cricket players' accuracy.

It turned out that when a cricket player was low in neuroticism, having a longer response time was correlated with higher accuracy.

But the opposite was true for those high in neuroticism. Highly neurotic cricket players saw an increase in accuracy when they had shorter response times.


Bell and colleagues explain that:

“The most parsimonious explanation for this finding is that individuals with high levels of neuroticism tend to have a stimulus-driven attentional orientation, which means they are likely to react automatically to environmental stimuli (particularly if it is threat-related) resulting in faster and more accurate responses in the context of the current task.”

Put more simply, neurotics may do better when they automatically react because they pay close attention, especially if the situation feels menacing. Delaying their response may only increase the level of noise in their decision-making process and make them more likely to struggle to keep paying attention in a way that would be useful.

What this means

Being neurotic is often seen as a negative personality trait. But in highly pressurized scenarios, being neurotic may actually be an advantage for decision-making! The next time you’re in an intimidating dilemma that requires some quick thinking, it might be time to trust the most neurotic person around.

© Josh Gonzales


Bell, J. J., Mawn, L., & Poynor, R. (2013). Haste makes waste, but not for all: The speed-accuracy trade-off does not apply to neurotics. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14(6), 860-864.

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