Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Is It Better To Think Than To Blink?

Earlier psychological findings have implicated unconscious thought as being superior to conscious thinking when considering complex decision problems. For instance, researchers at the University of Amsterdam in 2004 reported findings demonstrating that participants who were distracted made better decisions about selecting from a series of apartments than did their counterparts who were not distracted. 

Further, the wildly popular book Blink, written by Malcolm Gladwell, provides numerous illustrations of people making superior decision using their unconscious thought processes rather than conscious thought. However, several recently published studies offer evidence that diminishes, and, in some cases, even contradicts these earlier findings supporting the unconscious mind's superiority for complex decisions. For example, a research team operating at the University of New South Wales and the University of Essex conducted a series of four studies that sought to replicate previous studies that showed the alleged power of unconscious thought using the apartment decision paradigm. 

Interestingly, all of these studies pointed unanimously to the conclusion that, contrary to the claims in the literature, there was very little evidence for the power of the unconscious over the conscious when making decisions. Another recent study analyzed the results of over 17 published studies that pitted unconscious against conscious thought in at attempt to determine if the purported benefits for unconscious thought were real and found that across the majority of these studies it was conscious rather than unconscious thought that was most effective when making complex decisions. 

While these recent studies side favorably with conscious thought providing more desirable outcomes than unconscious thought when making judgments, it is important to recognize that even conscious thought has it disadvantages, such as thinking too much, which has been found to yield suboptimal decision making. In addition, even though the unconscious may produce inferior decision outcomes, these outcomes are typically not that inferior to decisions made consciously.