Thinking that time is scarce can influence how you evaluate information


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Anne-Sophie Chaxel, associate professor of marketing at HEC Paris, explains how the influence of a limited time perspective on hiring and promotion decision-makers can have a very detrimental effect on rectifying gender imbalance in a workplace

This is part two of a two-part article exploring how time perception can have an influence on the decision-making process. You can read part one introducing the concept of information distortion bias and prior research on the topic here.

Key findings

Overall, inducing decision-makers to adopt a limited time perspective increased information distortion in all the studies reported in the paper.

In other words - thinking that time is scarce led participants to rely more on their initial beliefs to evaluate subsequent information, and thereby increased the extent to which they displayed information distortion.

We first needed a manipulation of limited time perspective, which would induce some participants to think of time as running out. To do so, half of the participants were asked to write a short essay about a specific goal in their life they would wish to achieve but are lacking time to complete. The other half of the participants did not undergo this task and was defined as the control group.

All participants then completed the same choice task, during which they had to process information about deciding to commit to a new project. The information about the new project was presented piece by piece.

Results show that an early preference towards committing to the project tended to bias positively the information about the venture for all participants, but that the presence of the bias was even stronger for participants who adopted a limited time perspective.

In a second study, we examined the reasons why adopting a limited time perspective increased information distortion. A limited time perspective is known to drive a desire to derive meaning and satisfaction from life.

Thereby we observed that participants focused on the information that was emotionally relevant to them. In other words, time scarcity induced participants to want to defend their own perceptions of the world, which drove more information distortion.

We then examined whether adopting a limited time perspective also increases other biases in judgment and decision-making, in a way that may be similar to information distortion

As another decision-making bias, we examined the cause and consequence matching phenomenon, by which people tend to think that a big consequence (e.g. a war) is more likely to be caused by a large cause (e.g. a conspiracy) than by a small cause (e.g. a random accident). Limited time perspective increased the occurrence of this bias as well.

Finally, we examined whether we could replicate our prior findings with a more natural activation of limited time perspective through age. The idea was that younger individuals might naturally think they have more time ahead to accomplish their life goals than older individuals do.

Comparing a sample of older participants to a sample of younger participants, we observed the same pattern of key results, which is that older participants tended to distort information more than younger participants did when they were reminded of their age at the beginning of the study.

This result could contribute to explaining why older people hold stronger beliefs and are more likely to show very polarised attitudes, in contrast to younger people, who tend to be less polarised.

From research to reality

Information distortion is a key process to explain how our existing beliefs taint our interpretation of incoming information. The bias has been shown to apply across domains, such as legal, medical, and managerial decision-making.

Specifically, prior research has shown this bias to impact how decision-makers interpret information related to several candidates up for promotion, based on stereotypical beliefs about male and female and career/ family orientation. Therefore, information distortion is key to understanding how stereotyping influence choices, especially as regarding hiring and promotion decisions.

The current research demonstrates that thinking of time as a limited resource may drive more distortion, and therefore may lead to more stereotyping. Conditions in which people are reminded they might not have enough time in their life to accomplish their projects may induce more polarization in society in general, but also more biases on the work place.

The present research did not examine ways to reduce perceptions of limited time perspective, but any action that may remind people they will have time to accomplish their goals should participate in helping to alleviate the bias.

In addition, remaining aware that information distortion is more likely to occur when decision-makers believe their time is limited should contribute to reducing its occurrence.

Finally, information distortion has generally been shown to be reduced when people are motivated to adopt a systematic decision-making process by which they adopt perspective taking. Systematically reviewing information adopting somebody else’s lenses may therefore be especially helpful in circumstances when time scarcity is salient.


  • Hart, William, Dolores Albarracín, Alice H. Eagly, Inge Brechan, Matthew J. Lindberg, and Lisa Merrill. "Feeling validated versus being correct: a meta-analysis of selective exposure to information." Psychological bulletin 135, no. 4 (2009): 555.
  • DeKay, Michael L. "Predecisional information distortion and the self-fulfilling prophecy of early preferences in choice." Current Directions in Psychological Science 24, no. 5 (2015): 405-411.
  • Russo, J. Edward, Margaret G. Meloy, and T. Jeffrey Wilks. "Predecisional distortion of information by auditors and salespersons." Management Science 46, no. 1 (2000): 13-27.
  • Chaxel, Anne-Sophie. "How do stereotypes influence choice?." Psychological Science 26, no. 5 (2015): 641-645.

About the author

Anne-Sophie Chaxel is an associate professor of marketing at HEC Paris. She received her PhD in Marketing from Cornell University’s Behavioural Economics and Decision Research Centre.

This article is based on The impact of a limited time perspective on information distortion written by Chaxel with Catherine Wiggins at Cornell University and Jieru Xie at Virginia Tech University, and published by Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes in 2018 (issue 149).

The full article of the above is published in the September/October 2020 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.

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