Friday, January 28, 2011


Stimulus Hypothesis Option Response
SHOR Model of Decision Making
A unique ability that sets humans apart from animals is self-awareness and the ability to choose how we respond to any stimulus. Animals do not have this independent will. They respond to a stimulus in a pre-programmed manner. If there is a threat stimulus the response is either fight or flight. We human beings too sometimes instantly follow the stimulus-response model.

It may be apt to remember that whenever we are confronted with any decision making situation, between Stimulus and Response there lies a space, a timeline, and in that space lies our freedom to choose a course of action, and in that choice lies our sagacity.

Hence, when confronted with a stimulus, instead of instantly responding, we must calm our minds, be self-aware, dispassionately analyse and evaluate the situation, draw up options and then choose the most suitable option as the response.

Here is a story from the life of Buddha that highlights the fact that a calm mind leads to better decisions.
Once Buddha was walking from one town to another town with a few of his followers.

While they were travelling, they happened to pass a lake.

They stopped there and Buddha told one of his disciples, “I am feeling thirsty.  Please get me some water from that lake there.” 

The disciple walked up to the lake.  When he reached it, he noticed that some people were washing clothes in the water, and right at that moment, a bullock cart started crossing through the lake.  As a result, the water became very muddy, very turbid. 

The disciple thought, “How can I give this muddy water to Buddha to drink...?”

So he came back and told Buddha, “The water in there is very muddy.  I don’t think it is fit to drink.”   

After about half an hour, again Buddha asked the same disciple to go back to the lake and get him some water to drink.   

The disciple obediently went back to the lake.   

This time he found that the lake had absolutely clear water in it.  The mud had settled down and the water above it looked fit to be consumed.  So he collected some water in a pot and brought it to Buddha.   

Buddha looked at the water, and then he looked up at the disciple and said, “See what you did to make the water clean.  You let it be…. and the mud settled down on its own – and you got clear water.  Your mind is also like that!  When it is disturbed, just let it be.  Give it a little time.  It will settle down on its own.  You don’t have to put in any effort to calm it down.  It will happen.  It is effortless.”

When there is peace inside you, that peace permeates to the outside.  It spreads around you and in the environment and helps you make better decisions. Conversely, you could be in very peaceful surroundings, where everything is wonderfully beautiful, but if your inside is disturbed, then that beauty is of no use to you. For you to be peaceful, peace has to be generated from deep within you - from your being to the mind, and from the mind to the environment. For example, even if you have the best music system, you cannot truly enjoy music if you are mentally disturbed. In fact, it is more important to be in a sublime state of inner peace and to be in harmony with oneself in order to relish the finer things of life.

One of the factors that disturb your inner peace is uncertainty – many times uncertainty elicits sub-optimal responses if we use the Stimulus-Response (SR) Paradigm of decision making and hence there is need for a better model like the SHOR Paradigm, which is described below.


Decision-making is so pervasive that everyone, professionally or personally, is involved with making a variety of decisions. 

In today’s fast-moving world, the timing of a decision is of paramount importance in many decision-making situations.

In real life even the “perfect” decision may not be optimal if it is made too late.  

Information is a vital resource in decision-making.

One of the most important characteristics of successful managers is the ability to make the correct decision when confronted with imperfect or insufficient information (i.e.) Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty.

In the context of decision-processing, two realms or domains of uncertainty are:
1. Information Input Uncertainty which creates the need for hypothesis generation and evaluation.
2. Consequence-of-Action Uncertainty which creates the need for option generation and evaluation.

A decision taxonomy: The StimulusHypothesisOptionResponse (SHOR) Paradigm decision making model is useful in such decision situations.

The SHOR paradigm represents a qualitative, descriptive, model as distinct from a quantitative, predictive model, and comprises the following primary decision-making task elements:

S: Stimulus Input Data Processing
H: Hypothesis Generation, Hypothesis Evaluation, Information Processing [What is?]
O: Option Generation, Option Evaluation, Decision-Making [What if?]
R: Response Output Action 

The SHOR paradigm is basically an extension of the classical Stimulus – Response (SR) Paradigm of behaviourist psychology.

The SHOR paradigm provides explicitly for the necessity to deal with information input uncertainty and consequence-of-action uncertainty, and helps us understand some of the peculiar human factors that affect the quality of the decision-making and answering questions such as:

What makes some decision-makers perform better than others, especially in placing high-value assets at risk, in business?
What are the sources and dimensions of “poor” performance?


Based on the SHOR Model, human errors in decision-making appear to lie in four domains: 
(S) Stimulus: “I did not know…”
(H) Hypothesis: “I did not understand…”
(O) Option: “I did not consider…”
(R) Response: “I did not act…”

Stimulus based errors of the type “I did not know…” result from lack or inadequacy of information, the true inability to obtain information.

I did not understand…” is the fundamental result of information input uncertainty, while “I did not consider…” is the product of consequence-of-action uncertainty

It is possible to have accessed all significant information, to have developed the correct hypothesis and to have selected the best option and yet fail to take appropriate action.

The two possible reasons for the “I did not act…” type of response error are:

1. Paralysis: This is a complete failure to act, the pathological ‘observation of an inevitable course’ without intervention. It is caused by an over-riding emotional struggle in which some internal factor is being placed in conflict with the course of action selected by the decision-maker. The final scene in the evergreen classic film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) exemplifies such a situation.

2. Misjudgement: The decision-maker correctly decides what to do but errs in either or both of the two dimensions – how [the specifics of the action] or when [the timing of the action].

Prediction of the critical consequences of inaction may be of some help in dealing with paralysis whilst the ability to perform sensitivity analyses may assist in alleviating misjudgement.  

Any Decision-Maker [and designers of decision proccesors and aids] must address the four cardinal types of errors epitomized by the SHOR paradigm: “I did not know…”, “I did not understand…”, “I did not consider…” and “I did not act


In the context of decision-making in uncertainty, the conflict theory paradigm developed by Janis and Mann may be apt.

This paradigm postulates five patterns of coping behaviour which tends to occur in such situations:

1. Unconflicted Adherence in which the uncertain, or risk, information is ignored and the decision-maker complacently decides to continue whatever he has been doing.

2. Unconflicted Change to a new course of action, where the decision-maker uncritically adopts whichever new course of action is most salient, obvious or strongly recommended.

3. Defensive Avoidance in which the decision-maker evades conflict by procrastinating, shifting responsibility to someone else, or constructing wishful rationalisations and remaining selectively inattentive to corrective information.

4. Hyper-vigilance wherein the decision-maker searches frantically for a way out of the dilemma and impulsively seizes upon a hastily contrived solution that seems to promise immediate relief, overlooking the full range of consequences of his choice because of emotional excitement, repetitive thinking and cognitive constriction. In its most extreme form hyper-vigilance is referred to as “panic”.

5. Concerned Vigilance in which the decision-maker optimally processes pertinent information and then generates and evaluates hypotheses and options before selecting a response as characterised by the SHOR paradigm.

In many real-life situations a decision-maker cannot always keep waiting until the entire information-input and consequence-of-action conditions are known a priori with certainty.

In most cases there is no such thing as “perfect” certainty.

If a single most important characteristic is crucial to a decision-maker in any field, it is the ability to make optimal decisions in conditions of uncertainty.

Qualitative Descriptive Models like the SHOR Paradigm may prove useful in such situations.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.  
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU, The Lawrence School Lovedale, and Bishop's School Pune, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book "Appetite for a Stroll". Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog:
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Professional Profile of Vikram Karve -
Foodie Book: Appetite for a Stroll

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