Posts Tagged Lehrer

The decisive moment

Three cars

The red one...no, the yellow one, no...

Choosing an expensive item such as a car can be hard enough. In 2006 Ap Dijksterhuis, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam, made things a bit harder. He gave people various items of information about a selection four of cars and asked them to choose the best option.

The information had been engineered so that each car had a different mixture of positive and negative attributes, but one car was designed to be a best option and another was designed to be the worst option.

Dijksterhuis then divided his subjects into four groups. To two of the groups he only gave four items of information per car (simple condition), whereas the other group had to deal with 12 attributes per car (complex condition).

After reading the information about the cars, half of each group were allowed four minutes to think about their choice (conscious choosers). The other half were given anagrams to complete in order to distract them from thinking (unconscious choosers). They were then asked to make their choice of the best car and their result was compared with the real answer.

In the simple condition (four attributes per car), there was no real difference in success rate between the conscious and the unconscious choosers. However, in the complex condition (12 attributes per car) the people who had been distracted made consistently better decisions than the people who had been allowed to consider the choice.

So, is the unconscious mind better at making complex decisions than the conscious mind?

Dijksterhuis, A. (2006) On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect Science, 311(5763), 1005-1007. DOI: 10.1126/science.1121629

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