It Won't Take Long

Power Biases our Estimations of Time

Posted Sep 30, 2017

Psychology research has uncovered a vast array of psychological biases, while also uncovering that most people tend to believe that they are objective.

One such bias is the planning fallacy, which is basically people's tendency to overestimate how quickly they will get something finished. 

The ability to predict how long things will take to finish is important for any business or government, and it is important to us as individuals. You think that kitchen re-model will take 3 weeks? Well, you might be quite annoyed that things are not in total working order in a month's time. Your underestimation will lead to trouble later on. And when it comes to government decisions, this is arguably even more problematic. Think that new road or building will take a year to fix/make? Well you'd best be budgeting for more time than that, government decision makers.

Important decisions are often placed in powerful people's hands (feel free to say to yourself "well duh" in my direction if you want). Does power influence the ability to predict how long things will take?

According to research by University of Kent psychologist Mario Weick, the answer is "yes." Power actually makes people worse at estimating how long things will take, and, specifically, it makes them predict things will take less time than they will. In other words, it heightens the planning fallacy discussed earlier.

In one study, participants were asked to recall a situation in which they had power, or a situation in which they did not. In the condition in which people had thought about a past experience of power, they were then more likely to think they could quickly finish an editing task on the computer (they weren't!). Follow up studies found that similar effects were found on time estimation when giving participants actual power, and all results occurred independently of self-efficacy (the belief you are capable of doing things well).

It appears then that power biases how quickly we think things will be finished. 

References

Weick, M., & Guinote, A. (2010). How long will it take? Power biases time predictions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(4), 595-604.