A new framework to help decision-makers avoid narrative traps


Decision-makers everywhere can familiarise themselves with the ABCDE of decision-making to avoid succumbing to the narrative trap.

Amanda Henwood

A new five-step behavioural framework, put forward by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and published in Frontiers in Psychology, aims to help decision-makers be more alert to the narrative traps that influence their decisions, including high-risk situations such as Covid-19.

They call it the ABCDE of decision-making: Acceptance, Balancing, Checklists, Diversity and Evaluation. As an example, Diversity recommends that decision-making includes input from a range of disciplines, perspectives, and experiences to ensure that alternative social narratives (e.g., the importance of mental health) are identified and considered. Simple rules like these, they explain, can help to balance out narrative bias in decision-making by facilitating a more considered, proportionate and rational response.

The paper outlines the key role of social stories in decision-making. The authors argue that, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, in seeking to reduce virus transmission and save lives, other outcomes such as mental health, children’s education and the economy were less dominant, at least initially. They show how several key factors known to bias behaviour have contributed to the dominance of this story: social norms, fear and situational blindness. They argue that greater alertness to these factors can improve decision-making and, ultimately, social welfare.

Commenting on this framework, Amanda Henwood (Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE) said: “A lack of alertness towards the social narratives that shape our perceptions, values and decisions is a major threat to decision-making. Decision-makers everywhere can familiarise themselves with the ABCDE of decision-making to avoid succumbing to the narrative trap”

Professor Dolan (Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE) added that “The costs and benefits of any decision cannot be evaluated through a lens that is unduly influenced by dominant stories about how to behave. Social narratives may distort our assessments of impact, and until now, have received very little attention in the literature. Our simple framework – the ABCDE of decision-making – should help us avoiding falling into narrative traps”.

Behind the story:

‘Five Steps Towards Avoiding Narrative Traps in Decision-Making’, Paul Dolan and Amanda Henwood (2021), Frontiers in Psychology.

For comment and interview requests contact Gemma Hutchinson: pbs.comms@lse.ac.uk or LSE Media Relations: media.relations@lse.ac.uk.