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Psychol Res. 2010 Nov;74(6):586-92. doi: 10.1007/s00426-010-0281-8. Epub 2010 Mar 31.

Conscious thought beats deliberation without attention in diagnostic decision-making: at least when you are an expert.

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Department of Psychology T13-33, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062 PA, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Contrary to what common sense makes us believe, deliberation without attention has recently been suggested to produce better decisions in complex situations than deliberation with attention. Based on differences between cognitive processes of experts and novices, we hypothesized that experts make in fact better decisions after consciously thinking about complex problems whereas novices may benefit from deliberation-without-attention. These hypotheses were confirmed in a study among doctors and medical students. They diagnosed complex and routine problems under three conditions, an immediate-decision condition and two delayed conditions: conscious thought and deliberation-without-attention. Doctors did better with conscious deliberation when problems were complex, whereas reasoning mode did not matter in simple problems. In contrast, deliberation-without-attention improved novices' decisions, but only in simple problems. Experts benefit from consciously thinking about complex problems; for novices thinking does not help in those cases.

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