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Sep 10, 2009

Two new studies show that when it comes to making decisions, the trouble starts when we think too much.

By FLYP Staff

Every day, you make thousands of decisions.

These range from unconscious acts—turning on hot water instead of cold in the shower—to momentous choices, like what house to buy or who to marry.

Everyone knows all decisions aren’t created equal; the really hard ones require really hard thinking. But two new studies challenge this conventional wisdom. They suggest that thinking too consciously—really deliberating—might be the wrong way to make big choices.   

Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that the human brain is hard-wired to allow us to make the best decisions possible with the information we have. But there’s a catch: while our brains are programmed to make optimal choices, the best decisions seem to be made when the unconscious mind is doing the deciding.

In a simple unconscious-decision test, a series of dots were generated on a computer screen. Most of the dots moved in random directions, but a controlled number were made to move uniformly. The test subjects had to simply say if the dots were moving to the left or to the right.

During the test, the subjects performed as if their brains were subconsciously gathering information. They never were aware of the complex computations going on in their heads, they simply “realized” the dots were moving in one direction or the other. This highlighted the accuracy of decisions made subconsciously.

Another new study in the Journal of Consumer Research supports this idea that the subconscious brain is actually the better decider. These researchers reported that people who deliberate about decisions make less accurate judgments that people who trust their instincts.

For the test, subjects were asked to evaluate abstract objects along with actual consumer items. In five separate studies, the researchers found better judgments were often made without deliberation. In fact, the more complex the decision is, the less useful deliberation becomes.

All of which means it may be time to reconsider how you make up your mind. Instead of making lists of pros and cons, both of these studies show you are probably better off not thinking so much.

According to these researchers, instead of listening to your rational mind when choosing your potential marriage partner or buying a new car, you’ll be better off if you go with your gut.


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Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the same in his excellent book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking ” – see http://cli.gs/gladwell-blink

Kim Hjortholm
Mar 31, 2010

Very interesting study. I also believe its very true, yet quite ironic in our age of reason to literally tell people, ‘ you’ll be better off not thinking so much’

Ilze Wessels
Oct 7, 2009

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