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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2004 Nov;87(5):586-98.

Think different: the merits of unconscious thought in preference development and decision making.

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Social Psychology Program, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


The role of unconscious and conscious thought in decision making was investigated in 5 experiments. Because of the low processing capacity of consciousness, conscious thought was hypothesized to be maladaptive when making complex decisions. Conversely, unconscious thought was expected to be highly effective. In Experiments 1-3, participants were presented with a complex decision problem in which they had to choose between various alternatives, each with multiple attributes. Some participants had to make a decision immediately after being presented with the options. In the conscious thought condition, participants could think about the decision for a few minutes. In the unconscious thought condition, participants were distracted for a few minutes and then indicated their decision. Throughout the experiments, unconscious thinkers made the best decisions. Additional evidence obtained in Experiments 4 and 5 suggests that unconscious thought leads to clearer, more polarized, and more integrated representations in memory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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