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Psychol Aging. 2010 Jun;25(2):251-61. doi: 10.1037/a0018856.

Age differences in the effects of conscious and unconscious thought in decision making.

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Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7801, USA.


The roles of unconscious and conscious thought in decision making were investigated to examine both (a) boundary conditions associated with the efficacy of each type of thought and (b) age differences in intuitive versus deliberative thought. Participants were presented with 2 decision tasks, one requiring active deliberation and the other intuitive processing. Young and older adults then engaged in conscious or unconscious thought processing before making a decision. A manipulation check revealed that young adults were more accurate in their representations of the decision material than older adults, which accounted for much of the age-related variation in performance when the full sample was considered. When only accurate participants were considered, decision making was best when there was congruence between the nature of the information and the thought condition. Thus, unconscious thought was more appropriate when participants relied on intuitive rather than deliberative processing to make their decision, whereas the converse was true with conscious thought. Although older adults displayed somewhat less efficient deliberative processing, their ability to process information at the intuitive level was relatively preserved. Additionally, both young and older adults displayed choice-supportive memory.

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