Conscious vs. unconscious thought in making complicated decisions
Published: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 18:22 in Psychology & Sociology
When faced with a difficult decision,
we try to come up with the best choice by carefully considering all of the options, maybe even resorting to lists and lots
of sleepless nights. So it may be surprising that recent studies have suggested that the best way to deal with complex decisions
is to not think about them at all - that unconscious thought
will help us make the best choices.
Although this may seem like an appealing
strategy, new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, cautions that
there are limitations in the efficacy of unconscious thought making the best decisions.
Duke University researchers John W.
Payne, Adriana Samper, James R. Bettman and Mary Frances Luce had volunteers participate in a lottery choice task, where they
had to pick from four various options, each with a different, but close, payoff.
The volunteers were divided into three
groups for this task: one group was instructed to think about the task for a given amount
of time, another group was told to think about the task for as long as they wanted and the
last group was distracted before making their selection (thus, unconsciously thinking
about the task).
A second experiment was similarly
set up, except that there were substantial differences in the payoffs of the different options.
The researchers found that there are situations where unconscious
thought will not result in the best choice being selected.
The findings showed that in some instances (when the
payoffs were similar), thinking about the task for as only as long as it
takes to make a decision was as effective as unconscious thought, resulting in the most
profitable options being chosen.
However, when there were large differences in the amount of money to be won, mulling
over the decision at their own pace led the volunteers to larger payoffs than unconscious thought.
The volunteers who were told to consciously think about
the decision for a specific amount of time performed poorly in both experiments. The authors explain that those volunteers
had "too much time to think" about the task and suggest that their attention shifted "to
information of lesser relevance," resulting in less profitable decisions.
These results suggest that although unconscious thought
may help us make the right decision in some instances, it is often better to rely on self-paced
conscious thought and really focus on the problem at hand.
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Thinking like a president: How power affects complex decision making
Published: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 18:22 in Psychology & Sociology
Presidential scholars have
written volumes trying to understand the presidential mind. How can anyone juggle so many complicated decisions? Do those
seeking office have a unique approach to decision making?
Studies have suggested that
power changes not only a person's responsibilities, but also the way they think. Now, a
new study in the December issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates
that having power may lead people to automatically think in a way that makes complex decision-making
Psychologists Pamela Smith,
Ap Dijksterhuis and DaniŽl Wigboldus of Radboud University Nijmegen stimulated feelings of powerlessness or power in a group
of volunteers by having some volunteers recall a situation when other people had power over them and other volunteers recall
a situation when they had power over other people.
Then they were given a complicated
problem to solve (they had to pick among four cars, each varying on 12 different attributes).
The experiment was designed so that there was a "correct" solution—that is, one of the cars had the most positive and
least negative attributes, although the optimal choice was not obvious. Both the "powerful" and the "powerless" volunteers
chose among the cars, but some spent time consciously thinking about the problem, while
others were distracted with a word puzzle.
Previous research has shown
that most people can solve complex problems better if they engage in unconscious thinking,
rather than try to deliberately examine and weigh each factor. The conscious mind is not able to consider every possibility—attempts
to do so bog the mind down in too much detail.
Unconscious thinkers are better
at solving complicated problems because they are able to think abstractly and very quickly
get to the gist of the problem—they do not spend a lot of time focusing on insignificant details of the problem.
The results showed that the
"powerless" volunteers performed better when they were distracted—that is, when they unconsciously
thought about the problem. More interestingly, the "powerful" participants performed equally well regardless of whether
they were in the conscious thinking or unconscious thinking
These findings indicate that
powerful people's conscious deliberation is very much like the unconscious
processing of the rest of us—more abstract and better when it comes to complex decisions.
Overcoming Nonstop Thinking
by Remez Sasson
Are you aware that your mind is always occupied with thoughts? Are you aware that thoughts constantly demand your attention, dictate your behavior and reactions?
Do you sometimes feel that
your mind is going to explode from nonstop thinking? Can you focus your attention on what
you are doing at any moment, or are you constantly distracted by all kinds of thoughts, negative thinking or negative expectations? You need to learn to overcome your nonstop thinking in order to gain control over your attention.
Do you sometimes wish your
mind could just stop thinking for a little while, and let you enjoy some rest and peace? Like an engine, it has to rest to avoid wear and tear. It needs some rest from time to time, in order to recharge itself and your body.
The mind often looks like
a cluttered room, with no free space and no place to move. When you empty your room it will look bigger and tidier, and it
will be more pleasant to be there. So it is with your mind. Remove the clutter - the unnecessary thoughts,
the worries and the fears, and your life would look happier and brighter.
You are probably not constantly
aware of the restlessness of your mind, because this became a habit and you got accustomed to it, yet, thoughts
keep coming and going, occupying your mind every moment of the day, spending up mental and emotional energy, and sometimes
making your head ache.
Tension, strain and pressure at work and at home make the mind even more restless, and attract more thoughts into it.
Problems, difficulties, fears, worries and hurt feelings increase even more the mental restlessness and lack of inner peace, making you more acutely aware of the swarm of thoughts coming into your mind and making you feel helpless. It is during such times that you desperately feel the need for inner peace and freedom from endless thinking.
When you need to focus your attention, study or meditate, you are again confronted with thoughts that swarm into your mind, disturbing and distracting your attention. This also happens when you are worried, angry or emotionally excited. You feel unable to stop the flow of thoughts and emotions that prevent clear thinking, calmness or self-control.
During such times you just
want to scream at the mind to stop thinking. You feel that your mind has broken any control and barriers, and that it is working on its own, sometimes to your detriment. It is like being helpless in a rudderless boat
in the midst of the ocean, and all you want is some steady and safe land.
It is in times of worry, stress,
fear and strain that inner peace of mind is greatly desired and appreciated. Actually, inner peace and freedom from restless and incessant thinking is a great boon anytime and everywhere.
It makes you happier, stronger, more confident and happy.
Imagine how it would be to
live your life, work, interact with people, read, watch TV, travel or do anything else, without
thoughts and worries claiming your attention. Just think how your concentration would
become stronger and your five senses sharper! Just imagine how your