Monday, February 05, 2007

Sleeping on It...

...well, I actually haven't done that when deciding to post this link, but that's because I already know the truth and value of it. I know it works for me and I think I see it working for home educated kids. What I don't understand is how it works for children in school, who are, of course, required to make decisions according to a pre-prescribed time-table which almost always doesn't include sufficient staring-out-the window time.

The other thing the article doesn't mention, but which I am convinced is a related feature, is that when I don't get that sort of time, I start to feel overloaded, and incapable of processing even new and consciously held information correctly.

"When to Sleep on It

Have a difficult decision to make? You should engage in long and careful deliberation, right? Not necessarily. Psychological research shows that conscious deliberation, however long and careful, can be a surprisingly crude and ineffective tool, because the conscious mind has a very limited processing capacity. Most people cannot, for example, compare three organizations differing on 14 dimensions. That is simply too much information for the conscious mind to take in and handle all at once.

Conscious deliberation, however long and careful, can be a surprisingly crude and ineffective tool.

Of course, if this limited capacity led executives to use only the best and most relevant information, the situation would be fine. But it doesn’t. People who mull over their decisions typically get the relative importance of the various pros and cons very wrong. In one recent experiment I helped conduct, we studied experts’ predictions for World Cup soccer matches. We found that the longer our participants thought about their answers, the more likely they were to include irrelevant information (which city will host the game) at the expense of relevant information (track records of the teams playing). And the more information they factored in, the less accurate their predictions became. The logical conclusion from this and similar experiments is that conscious deliberation leads to sound decisions only when a very limited amount of information is involved.

Luckily, there is another way to make difficult choices: Don’t think hard about the decision, and after a while your unconscious mind, which is known to have a far greater processing capacity than your conscious mind, will tell you what you should do. Such an unconsciously generated preference is usually referred to as intuition or a gut feeling—a conviction that one alternative is better than another, even when we can’t verbalize why.

The notion of trusting your intuition is, of course, far from new; but what was unexamined until now is whether extensive unconscious thought can make intuition more reliable. Thus, my colleagues and I conducted experiments to test the power of the unconscious mind as a processor of information. We gave our subjects information pertaining to a choice—for example, which of four apartments was the most attractive, or which of four cars was the best. They had three options: They could make a choice immediately; they could take time for conscious deliberation; or they could figuratively sleep on it—that is, engage in unconscious thought. The subjects who chose the third option were first given information about the decision in question and then given information about an unrelated task, to occupy their conscious minds while their unconscious minds processed the relevant information.

When the unconscious thinkers were asked to choose one of the alternatives, they made better decisions, almost without exception, than the subjects who decided immediately or those who consciously deliberated. Their decisions were better from a normative perspective (more rationally justifiable), from a subjective perspective (more likely to produce post-choice satisfaction), and from an objective perspective (more accurate, as in predictions of soccer-match outcomes).

The moral? Use your conscious mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision—but don’t try to analyze the information. Instead, go on holiday while your unconscious mind digests it for a day or two. Whatever your intuition then tells you is almost certainly going to be the best choice. "

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