Congress is showing a frustrating inability to figure out how to deal with federal spending cuts, but their behavior may not be so incomprehensible if you look at them as a bunch of people with bad teeth who need dental work.

Researcher William Hedgcock says that Congress’ predicament isn’t unlike that of a dental patient who faces the choice of a root canal or a tooth extraction. For most people, he says the decision is emotionally fraught because both choices will cause great discomfort and probably cost a lot of money. Frequently, he says many people engage in trade-off avoidance and just skip the decision entirely, which only makes the tooth worse. Politics aside, our elected representatives’ behavior is consistent with what is known as trade-off avoidance, a human tendency to ignore difficult decisions that could lead to discomfort.

Hedgcock says, "When you have two or more choices, choosing between them can cause negative emotions. This can lead people to put it off, even though not making a decision could be the worst decision you can make."

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