Friday, October 9, 2009

Conscious Thinking Doesn't Help As Much

Although it is a fairly controversial field, lots of research has shown that individuals engaging in goal-directed but unconsciousness decision making make better decisions that individuals who deliberate consciously. Welcome to counterintuitive city! One major explanation of this paradox is that unconcious thought weighs information efficiently, while conscious thought is subject to biases that muck everything up. In a good demonstration (see here for the study), knowledgable basketball fans who were forced to list reasons for why they thought a particular team would win were less succesful (correct 65.2% of the time) than fans who were told to go on their gut instinct (correct 70.4% of the time).

Dijksterhuis et al recently looked at the predictions of students at the University of Amsterdam on upcoming soccer matches. They partitioned the students into either experts (n = 172) or nonexperts (n = 180), and told them to predict outcomes after 20 seconds, 140 seconds with deliberate thinking allowed, or 140 seconds with distraction for 120 of the seconds. Nonexperts actually did better when forced to pick immediately. But among the experts, immediate choosers predicted matches correctly ~47 +/- 3% of the time, conscious deliberators predicted matches correctly ~49 + / - 2% of the time, and unconscious (i.e., distracted) deliberators predicted matches correctly ~56 + / - 3% of the time.

So, conscious thinking is OK, but unconscious thinking is probably better. Trust your feelings. Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct. Listen to Obi Wan.