ArticlePDF Available

Abstract

The unconscious-thought effect refers to an improvement in decision making following distraction from the decision context for a period of time. The dominant explanation for this effect is that unconscious processes continue to deal with the problem during the distraction period. Recently, however, some researchers have proposed that unconscious thinkers may be merely recalling a judgment that was formed on-line (i.e., during information acquisition). We present two experiments that rule out the latter interpretation. In the unconscious-thought condition of the first experiment, participants who reported making their decision after unconscious thought made better decisions than those who reported making their decision on-line. In the second experiment, all participants judged the choice alternatives both on-line and off-line. On-line judgments were predictive of off-line judgments only in the immediate-decision condition, but not in the conscious- and unconscious-thought conditions. These results demonstrate that a period of unconscious thought does improve judgments that were formed earlier on-line.
For Review Only
Unconscious thought effects take place off-line, not on-line
Journal:
Psychological Science
Manuscript ID:
PSCI-09-1039.R2
Manuscript Type:
Research report
Keywords:
Decision Making, Consciousness, Social Cognition
Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
For Review Only
1
RUNNING HEAD: UNCONSCIOUS THOUGHT EFFECT
Unconscious Thought Effects Take Place Off-line, Not On-line
Madelijn Strick, Ap Dijksterhuis, & Rick B. van Baaren
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Correspondence concerning this article may be addressed to Madelijn Strick, Department of
Social and Cultural Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University
Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Tel. +31 24 361 26 97.
E-mail: m.strick@bsi.ru.nl
Word count: 2493
Page 1 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
2
Abstract
The unconscious thought effect refers to an improvement in decision making by distracting
oneself from the decision context for a period of time. The dominant explanation is that
unconscious processes continue to deal with the problem during the distraction period.
Recently, however, colleagues have proposed that unconscious thinkers merely recall a
judgment that was formed on-line (i.e., during information acquisition). We present two
experiments that rule out the latter interpretation. In the first experiment unconscious thought
yielded better decisions for participants who reported making their decision after unconscious
thought (i.e., off-line) rather than on-line. In the second experiment all participants judged the
choice alternatives both on-line and off-line. On-line judgments were predictive of off-line
judgments only in the immediate decision making condition, but not in the conscious and
unconscious thought conditions. These results demonstrate that a period of unconscious
thought does improve judgments that were earlier formed on-line.
Page 2 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
3
What is the best way to handle a complex decision? Should we follow our gut or apply logical
analysis? Should we choose rapidly or should we take our time and ‘sleep on it’? Recent
research on unconscious thought highlights the benefits of postponing the choice. In a typical
unconscious thought experiment, participants are presented with information about several
alternatives. After this information has been processed, participants are assigned to different
experimental conditions. Participants in the conscious thought condition think about the
alternatives before making a decision, participants in the unconscious thought condition
perform a distracter task that occupies consciousness before making a decision, and
participants in the control condition (the “immediate decision” condition) decide without
further thinking. The most common finding, often referred to as the unconscious thought
effect, is that unconscious thinkers make better decisions than participants in the remaining
two conditions (e.g., Bos, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2008; Dijksterhuis, 2004; Dijksterhuis,
Bos, Nordgren, & van Baaren, 2006; Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006; Ham & van den Bos, in
press A, in press B; Ham, van den Bos, & van Doorn, in press; Lerouge, 2009; Smith,
Dijksterhuis, & Wigboldus, 2008; see Strick, et al., 2009, for a recent meta-analysis).
A question that is currently being hotly debated is why unconscious thinkers make
better decisions. Unconscious Thought Theory (UTT; Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006)
postulates that participants continue to process information unconsciously while being
distracted, and that such a process of unconscious thought is, for reasons specified in the
theory, under some conditions more fruitful than conscious thought. A crucial aspect of the
theory is that unconscious thought engages processes that change decisions after initial on-
line impression formation. Recently, however, this interpretation of the unconscious thought
effect was challenged (e.g., Lassiter, Lindberg, González-Vallejo, Bellezza, & Phillips, 2009;
see also Cleeremans, Waroquier, David, & Klein, 2009). Lassiter and colleagues reported two
experiments that compared unconscious and conscious thinkers and found that, provided
Page 3 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
4
participants were able to form on-line impressions of the decision alternatives beforehand,
unconscious thinkers made better decisions. This pattern, however, was reversed when
participants were prevented from forming an on-line impression by being asked to memorize
the decision information. These results led them to formulate an alternative explanation: while
participants are presented with the relevant decision information, they form a fairly accurate
on-line impression of the various alternatives. After the distraction period, participants
remember the on-line impression, and decide accordingly. Conscious thinkers often
underperform relative to unconscious thinkers because, according to Lassiter and colleagues,
they engage in memory-based processing during their thinking which jeopardizes their on-line
judgments. Recently, Cleeremans and colleagues embraced this reasoning. They asked
unconscious thinkers whether they had already made their decisions on-line, and a significant
portion confirmed this.
However, the above interpretation of unconscious thought effects in terms of on-line
processes is at odds with many earlier findings. For example, although a few null effects have
been reported (Acker, 2008; Newell, Wong, Cheung, & Rakow, 2008), the vast majority of
published experiments found that unconscious thinkers perform significantly better than
immediate decision makers (Dijksterhuis, 2004; Dijksterhuis, Bos, van der Leij, & van
Baaren, in press; Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006; Ham & van den Bos, in press A, in press B;
Ham, et al., in press; Lerouge, 2009). If it is true, as Lassiter et al. claim, that unconscious
thinkers merely rely on on-line impressions made earlier, they should arrive at the same
decision as immediate decision makers who can only rely on on-line impressions. In addition,
in other research a comparison was made between unconscious thinkers and participants who
were distracted, but had no goal to later make a decision (the “mere distraction” condition).
These studies showed that people who think unconsciously make better decisions than people
who were merely distracted (Bos et al., 2008; Zhong, Dijksterhuis, & Galinsky, 2008).
Page 4 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
5
Finally, Dijksterhuis (2004) showed that the representations of information in memory
became more polarized (Experiment 4) and more integrated (Experiment 5) after a period of
unconscious thought, compared to an immediate assessment or a period of conscious thought.
This demonstrates that the representation of the decision alternatives changes over time. All
these finding conflict with the conclusion drawn by Lassiter and colleagues.
The present two experiments were designed to directly test the key assumption of UTT
that a period of unconscious thought changes decisions after initial on-line impression
formation. In both experiments participants were asked to choose between nine potential
roommates. The decision information was presented blocked per roommate in order to
enhance on-line impression formation.
In Experiment 1 participants were asked to indicate whether they made their decision
on-line or off-line (Cleeremans et al., 2009), and we assessed whether decision timing
affected decision quality. If the unconscious thought effect is based on accurate on-line
judgments, as Lassiter et al. proposed, we should expect that on-line judgments are equally
accurate as decisions made after a period of unconscious thought. UTT however, predicts that
a period of unconscious thought improves judgments.
In Experiment 2 all participants indicated their impressions during information
acquisition (i.e., on-line judgment), and we assessed the extent to which these impressions
predicted their final decision (i.e., off-line judgment). If unconscious thought effects are based
on accurate on-line judgments, we should find that on-line impressions predict choice in the
unconscious thought condition. According to UTT however, unconscious thought changes
judgments, so on-line impressions do not have to predict final choice.
Experiment 1
Method
Page 5 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
6
Participants. One-hundred and forty-two undergraduates from the Radboud University
Nijmegen participated in the experiment. The experiment was part of a longer session for
which participants received course credits or 10 euros.
Procedure and Materials. Participants were asked to imagine they would have to find
a dorm roommate. They were informed that they would be presented with information about
nine male candidates, and were asked to form impressions of them. Subsequently, the
personality profiles of nine male candidates were presented one by one, in random order.
Each profile contained a picture of the roommate’s face and a text of 140 to 160 words
describing 12 personality characteristics. Three roommates were (equally) attractive, with 8
positive attributes and 4 negative attributes, whereas three other roommates were not
attractive, with 6 positive attributes and 6 negative attributes. The remaining three roommates
were of intermediate attractiveness, with 7 positive attributes and 5 negative attributes. The
attractive roommates excelled on the most important personality characteristics (e.g., Joost is
often good-humored), whereas they scored poorly on unimportant characteristics (e.g., Joost
has low grades at the university). Participants could process the profiles at their own pace.
After processing all information, the participants were randomly allocated to one of
three conditions. In the immediate decision condition, participants chose their preferred
roommate immediately. In the conscious thought condition, participants were first asked to
very carefully think about what they thought of the candidates for 3 minutes before choosing.
In the unconscious thought condition, participants were distracted with an anagram task for 3
minutes before choosing. Finally, all participants were asked to indicate the moment at which
they decided which roommate to choose. They were given three choice options: 1 (Already
when I was reading the information about the roommates); 2 (After reading all information
about the roommates); 3 (Not before I was asked to make a choice). They indicated their
answer by typing the corresponding number. Participants who typed 1 (60% of the
Page 6 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
7
participants) were classified as on-line decision makers, whereas participants who typed either
2 or 3 (40% of the participants) were classified as off-line decision makers.
Results and Discussion
Overall, participants in the unconscious thought condition more often chose one of the
three attractive roommates (65.3%), compared to participants in the conscious thought
condition (17.0%), χ2(2, N = 96) = 23.01, p < .01, and participants in the immediate decision
condition (34.8%), χ2(2, N = 95) = 8.84, p < .011. The percentages of participants who
reported on-line and off-line decisions were distributed equally across the thought conditions,
χ2(2, N = 142) = 1.42, p = .49. To explore whether the unconscious thought effect was driven
by accurate on-line judgments, we analyzed the effect of decision timing on decision quality
separately for each thought condition. Among unconscious thinkers, off-line decision makers
(81.0%) more often chose an attractive roommate than on-line decision makers (53.6%), χ2(1,
N = 49) = 3.97, p < .05. Decision timing had no significant effect on decision quality in the
conscious thought condition and the immediate decision condition (both χ2s < 1, ns). These
results indicate that unconscious thinkers benefited from making the decision off-line,
whereas conscious thinkers and immediate decision makers did not (see also Figure 1).
These results are in line with the idea that unconscious thought improves decisions.
However, unconscious thinkers also performed reasonably well when deciding on-line
(53.6%). In fact, they performed significantly better than conscious thinkers who decided on-
line, χ2(1, N = 59) = 9.51, p < .01. This result is surprising, as on-line decisions take place
before the thought manipulation. One possibility is that introspection on judgments made
earlier are not always accurate. People may show a hindsight bias (cf. Fischhoff & Beyth,
1975) by believing they already made an on-line judgment. For instance, a participant may
choose alternative B and remember that during impression formation, she indeed already liked
B. What she may have forgotten however, is that she liked alternative D just as much during
Page 7 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
8
on-line impression formation. To overcome this problem, Experiment 2 directly measured on-
line and off-line judgments.
Experiment 2
The design of Experiment 2 allowed us to objectively distinguish between on-line and
off-line judgments. In addition, we could analyze the extent to which on-line judgments
predict off-line judgments in each condition. According to Lassiter et al., on-line judgments
should predict final choice for immediate decision makers and for unconscious thinkers –
after all, both groups base their choice on this on-line judgment - but not for conscious
thinkers. According to UTT, on-line judgments should predict final choice only for immediate
decision makers but not for conscious thinkers and unconscious thinkers.
Method
Participants. Ninety-two undergraduates from the Radboud University Nijmegen
participated in the experiment. The experiment was part of a longer session for which
participants received course credits or 10 euros.
Procedure and Materials. The procedure was similar to Experiment 1, except that
participants were asked to evaluate the candidates during information acquisition. After
reading each profile, participants were asked to rate their impression of the candidate along a
quasi-continuous 100-point line, ranging from 1 (negative) to 100 (positive). To provide all
participants with a neutral standard of comparison, we presented two filler candidates of
intermediate attractiveness before presenting the nine actual candidates. After processing all
information, the participants were randomly allocated to the same three thought conditions as
in Experiment 1, and finally chose their preferred candidate.
Results
Page 8 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
9
As expected, after the thought manipulation, unconscious thinkers more often chose an
attractive roommate (61.3%) than conscious thinkers (35.5%), χ2(2, N = 62) = 4.13, p = .04,
and immediate decision makers (33.3%), χ2(2, N = 61) = 4.78, p = .03; see Figure 2.
More importantly, can we predict roommate choice on the basis of on-line
impressions? We calculated the percentage of participants who chose a roommate consistent
with their on-line impressions. This was assessed as the percentage of participants who chose
their on-line favorite. For each thought condition, we tested this percentage against chance
level (which is 11%, given the nine candidates). As expected by UTT, the percentage of
people choosing their on-line favorite was above chance level only in the immediate decision
condition (36.7%), t(29) = 2.87, p < .01, but not in the unconscious thought condition
(22.6%), t(30) = 1.52, p = .14, and the conscious thought condition, (19.4%), t(29) = 1.16, p =
.26. These percentages did not differ between experimental conditions. These results provide
evidence against the idea that decisions made in the unconscious thought condition are merely
recalled on-line impressions. Furthermore, they show that judgments made on-line do change
during a period of either conscious or unconscious thought.
General Discussion
These two experiments provided evidence that a period of unconscious thought
improves decisions based on on-line impressions, as postulated by UTT. The findings speak
directly against the explanation of unconscious thought effects as proposed by Lassiter and
colleagues and by Cleeremans and colleagues. First of all, thereby supporting earlier findings,
unconscious thinkers decided more accurately than immediate decision makers. It is hard to
sustain that unconscious thinkers merely rely on on-line impressions when they outperform
decision makers who can only rely on on-line impressions. Furthermore, in Experiment 1,
unconscious thinkers made better decisions when they decided off-line rather than on-line,
which provides unequivocal support for the idea that on-line decisions improve after a period
Page 9 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
10
unconscious thought. In Experiment 2 on-line judgments were measured directly. Crucially,
on-line impressions did not predict the decisions of unconscious thinkers. Instead, only
immediate decision makers relied on their on-line impressions. Together these findings
support the conclusion that unconscious thought changes decisions for the better after initial
on-line impression formation.
The results of Lassiter and colleagues, however, are interesting in their own right.
They showed that unconscious thinkers only outperformed conscious thinkers when asked to
form impressions of the choice alternatives rather than to memorize the decision information.
Earlier research showed that – ironically – people who were asked to form an on-line
impression show better recall of the decision information than people who were asked to
memorize the same information (Chartrand & Bargh, 1996; Hamilton, Katz, & Leirer, 1980).
Superior recall by impression-set participants is caused by a more integrated organization of
information in memory. Recent findings suggest that factors that improved organized storage
of information in memory facilitate unconscious thought. Both experimental results (Lerouge
et al., 2009) and the results of a meta-analysis (Strick, et al., 2009) indicate that unconscious
thought effects are stronger when the information about the choice alternatives is presented
blocked per choice alternative rather than randomly. Hence, although Lassiter et al.’s
conclusion regarding the process underlying unconscious thought was premature, their
findings converge with the growing evidence that unconscious thought is facilitated by
thorough and organized information encoding.
Page 10 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
11
References
Acker, F. (2008). New findings on unconscious versus conscious thought in decision making:
Additional empirical data and meta-analysis. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 292-
303.
Bos, M. W., Dijksterhuis, A., & Van Baaren, R. B. (2008). On the goal-dependency of
unconscious thought. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1114-1120.
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1996). Automatic activation of impression formation and
memorization goals: Nonconscious goal priming reproduces effects of explicit task
instructions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 464-478.
Cleeremans, A., Waroquier, L., David, M., & Klein, O. (2009). To Think or Not to Think? A
Critique and Reappraisal of “Unconscious Thought Theory”. Manuscript in
preparation.
Dijksterhuis, A. (2004). Think different: The merits of unconscious thought in preference
development and decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
87, 586-598.
Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M. W., Nordgren, L. F., & Van Baaren, R. B. (2006). On making the
right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311, 1005-1007.
Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M. W., Van der Leij, A., & Van Baaren, R. B. (in press). Predicting
soccer matches after unconscious and conscious thought as a function of expertise.
Psychological Science.
Dijksterhuis, A., & Nordgren, L. F. (2006). A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives
on Psychological Science, 1, 95-109.
Dijksterhuis, A., & Van Olden, Z. (2006). On the benefits of thinking unconsciously:
Unconscious thought increases post-choice satisfaction. Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology, 42, 627-631.
Page 11 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
12
Fischhoff, B., & Beyth, R. (1975). I knew it would happen: Remembered probabilities of
once-future things. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 13, 1–16.
Ham, J., & Van den Bos, K. (in press A). On unconscious morality: The effects of
unconscious thinking on moral decision making. Social Cognition.
Ham, J., & Van den Bos, K. (in press B). The merits of unconscious processing of directly
and indirectly obtained information about social justice. Social Cognition.
Ham, J., Van den Bos, K., & Van Doorn, E. (in press). Lady Justice thinks unconsciously:
Unconscious thought can lead to more accurate justice judgments. Social Cognition.
Hamilton, D. L., Katz, L. B., & Leirer, V. O. (1980). Organizational processes in impression
formation. In R. Hastie, T.M. Ostrom, E.B. Ebbesen, R.S. Wyer Jr., D.L. Hamilton &
D.E. Carlston, (Eds.), Person memory: The cognitive basis of social perception (pp.
155-178). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Jonides, J., Schumacher, E. H., Smith, E. E., Lauber, E. J., Awh, E., Minoshima, S., &
Koeppe, R. A. (1997). Verbal working memory load affects regional brain activation
as measured by PET. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 462–475.
Lassiter, G. D., Lindberg, M. J., Gonzalez-Vallejo, C., Belleza, F. S., & Phillips, N. D.
(2009). The deliberation-without-attention effect: Evidence for an artifactual
interpretation. Psychological Science, 20, 671-675.
Lerouge, D. (2009). Evaluating the benefits of distraction on product evaluations: The
mindset effect. Journal of Consumer Research, doi: 10.1086/599047.
Newell, B. R., Wong, K. Y., Cheung, J. C. H., & Rakow, T. (2009). Think, blink or sleep on
it? The impact of modes of thought on complex decision making. Quarterly Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 62, 707–732.
Smith, P. K., Dijksterhuis., A., & Wigboldus, D. H. J. (2008). Powerful people make good
decisions even when they consciously think. Psychological Science, 19, 1258-1259.
Page 12 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
13
Strick, M., Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M. W., Sjoerdsma, A., Van Baaren, R. B., & Nordgren, L.
F. (2009). A meta-analysis on unconscious thought effects. Manuscript in preparation,
see www.unconsciouslab.com.
Zhong, C. B., Dijksterhuis, A., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). The merits of unconscious thought
in creativity. Psychological Science, 19, 912-918.
Page 13 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
14
Author Note
Madelijn Strick, Ap Dijksterhuis, and Rick B. van Baaren. Department of Social and
Cultural Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Madelijn Strick,
Department of Social and Cultural Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud
University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. E-mail: M.Strick@bsi.ru.nl
Page 14 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
15
Footnote
1Because participants in the unconscious thought condition were distracted with a task that
was only moderately demanding (i.e., an anagram task), we cannot fully rule out that they
occasionally thought about the decision consciously during the distraction task. Previous
research (e.g., Dijksterhuis, 2004), however, found similar results using a highly demanding
task (an n-back task, Jonides et al., 1997). The results of a meta-analysis (Strick, et al., 2009)
even indicate that n-back tasks yield stronger unconscious thought effects than anagram tasks.
Hence, it is unlikely that decisions improved because people’s thoughts returned to the
decision problem during the distraction period.
Page 15 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
16
Figure captions
Figure 1. Percentage of participants who made an accurate decision as a function of decision
timing and thought condition. Error bars represent the standard error.
Figure 2. Percentage of participants who made an accurate decision as a function of thought
condition. Error bars represent the standard error.
Page 16 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
181x106mm (72 x 72 DPI)
Page 17 of 18 Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
For Review Only
182x106mm (72 x 72 DPI)
Page 18 of 18Manuscript under review for Psychological Science
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
... The advantages of UT over CT in complex decisionmaking have been recognized as evidence of the existence of UT, as demonstrated by several studies using similar paradigms (Dijksterhuis, 2004;Zhong et al., 2008;Dijksterhuis et al., 2009;Lassiter et al., 2009;Lerouge, 2009;Ham and van den Bos, 2010;Strick et al., 2010;Usher et al., 2011;Abadie et al., 2013;Creswell et al., 2013;Gentile et al., 2013;Reinhard et al., 2013). Typically, participants in such studies are initially presented with information. ...
... However, the value of a person has several attributes and can provide numerous stimuli. Previous psychological research has demonstrated the advantage of UT in person evaluation tasks (Dijksterhuis, 2004;Bos et al., 2008;Strick et al., 2010;Usher et al., 2011). In our study, to compare the differences between tasks, we conducted a consumer-product evaluation task using the same three consumer products (cars, massage chairs, and apartments) as described in the study by Creswell et al. (2013). ...
... Each decision alternative was represented by a pictogram of either a human figure or a consumer product, along with 12 attributes ( Figure 1A). In the person evaluation task, the decision context was modified from a study by Strick et al. (2010) where participants were asked to rate a new dormitory roommate. However, because it is not common for Japanese university students to choose roommates, for our study, instead of roommates, we used university club members. ...
Article
Full-text available
Psychological research has demonstrated that humans can think unconsciously. Unconscious thought (UT) refers to cognitive or affective decision-related processes that occur beyond conscious awareness. UT processes are considered more effective in complex decision-making than conscious thought (CT). In addition, holistic representation plays a key role in UT and consists of a multimodal, value-related cognitive process. While the neural correlates of UT have recently been investigated, the holistic representation hypothesis of UT has not been confirmed. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed to further evaluate this hypothesis by utilizing two UT tasks (person and consumer-product evaluations) in conjunction with an improved functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experimental protocol. Participants evaluated four alternatives with 12 attributes each. In the UT condition, once the decision information had been presented, the participants completed a 1-back task for 120 s and evaluated each alternative, as well as an independent 1-back task in the absence of any decision information. We then performed regression analysis of the UT performance in both tasks. Our results revealed a positive correlation between performance in the UT task and the use of the anterior part of the precuneus/paracentral lobule in the person evaluation task and between performance and the posterior part of the precuneus, postcentral gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, and superior parietal lobule in the consumer-product evaluation task. The involvement of the precuneus area in both tasks was indicative of a multimodal, value-related process and is consistent with the features of holistic representation, supporting a central role for holistic representation in UT. Furthermore, the involvement of different precuneus subregions in the two UT tasks may reflect the task dependency of the key representation critical for advantageous UT.
... Research revealed that the amount of conscious attention dedicated to this complex decision can modulate its quality. Surprisingly, distracting people's attention away for a few minutes can help them to make a better choice relative to when they think consciously about the decision or when they make it immediately (e.g., Dijksterhuis, 2004;Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & van Baaren, 2006;Strick, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2010). This effect was dubbed the "unconscious thought effect" (UTE; Strick et al., 2010) because unconscious processing of decision information is assumed to occur during the distraction period. ...
... Surprisingly, distracting people's attention away for a few minutes can help them to make a better choice relative to when they think consciously about the decision or when they make it immediately (e.g., Dijksterhuis, 2004;Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & van Baaren, 2006;Strick, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2010). This effect was dubbed the "unconscious thought effect" (UTE; Strick et al., 2010) because unconscious processing of decision information is assumed to occur during the distraction period. ...
Article
Full-text available
Studies showed that a distraction period improves complex decision making relative to a conscious deliberation period or an immediate choice. Although this counterintuitive finding was replicated several times, many other studies failed to find any beneficial effect of distraction and some even showed situations in which conscious deliberation was more effective. We suggest that studies showing a conscious thought advantage share several features that may have fostered the encoding and the retrieval of precise verbatim representations of the choice alternatives. The effectiveness of conscious deliberation could thus depend on the availability of verbatim memory. To test this hypothesis we varied the availability of verbatim memory for the attributes of various equivalent alternatives by introducing, for half of the participants, a time delay between the presentation of the alternatives and of a fictitious client request that provides a normative criterion to evaluate them. Verbatim memory declined whereas gist memory increased in the delay relative to the no delay condition. Moreover, there was a detrimental effect of delay in the deliberation condition but not in the distraction and the immediate decision conditions. Both verbatim memory and decision quality after deliberation were affected by the introduction of a delay which suggests that verbatim memory underlies conscious thought effectiveness.
... 5. Intuition has been included in the group of psychic/paranormal experiences; instead, it is an absolutely normal mental faculty unless it shows hidden truths, a fact ranging from scientific discoveries (e.g., Einstein's intuition of the relativity of time) to events endowed with paranormal flavor ⎼ e.g., witnessed facts that neither seem plausible nor have been explained by scientific knowledge so far (e.g., witnessed NDEs, extrasensory perception, forecasting future events). Intuition is a still ill-known normal faculty of human mind, involving unconscious thinking as well as creativity [14,15,16,17]. It is also related to wisdom, an interesting neuropsychological model of which is available [18]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Aim of this paper is to review the state of the art of so⎼called altered states of consciousness, anomalous experiences, and exceptional human experiences, showing the need for reappraising the whole topic and gather them under one roof. The term Non⎼Ordinary Mental Expressions (NOMEs) and a new classification of non⎼pathological ostensibly odd phenomena is introduced, emphasizing their epistemological, transcultural and interdisciplinary implications with their huge implications in medical and psychotherapeutical clinical practice.
... According to UTT, conscious thought refers to targetrelevant thought processes that occur when conscious attention is focused on the target task, whereas unconscious thought refers to target-relevant thought processes that occur when conscious attention is focused on other distracting tasks ( ). In the studies exploring UTT, unconscious thought was manipulated by asking participants to complete a distraction task before making a decision or choice about the target task, and it was found that individuals' performances on the target task became better after a distraction task ( Strick et al., 2010Strick et al., , 2011). Specifically regarding deception detection, Reinhard et al. (2013) conducted five experiments to examine the effect of unconscious thought and found that participants in the unconscious thought condition were better at detecting deception vs. truth than participants in the immediate decision condition (standard condition) and consciousthought condition. ...
Article
Full-text available
Several recent studies have examined the effect of unconscious thinking on deception detection with the hypothesis that unconscious thought increases the ability to discriminate between truth and deception, but these studies yielded conflicting results. The present study aimed to re-examine the effect of unconscious thinking and extend it by adopting both verbal and nonverbal/paraverbal materials. We hypothesized that unconscious thought leads to a higher accuracy rate than immediate decision and conscious thought when judging nonverbal/paraverbal materials, but not when judging verbal materials. In Study 1, we compared unconscious thought with immediate decision by using both video and audio materials. In Study 2, we compared unconscious thought with conscious thought by using both video and text materials. The results showed that when detecting deception versus truth, (1) unconscious thought was not better than immediate decision on deception detection in both audio and video conditions (Study 1), and (2) unconscious thought was not better than conscious thought in both video and text conditions (Study 2). The Bayes factor of both studies also showed substantial evidence for null hypothesis (H0) relative to alternative hypothesis (H1). The implications and limitations of the present study are discussed.
... Surprisingly, initial results revealed that, when faced with such a complex decision with lots of relevant information, participants were more likely to choose the best option after a distraction than after a deliberation period or immediately after information presentation (Dijksterhuis, 2004;. This effect was dubbed the "unconscious thought effect" (UTE; Strick, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2010) because unconscious processing of decision information is assumed to occur during the distraction period. ...
Article
Decision-making research reports mixed findings about the best way to make complex decisions involving multiple criteria. While some researchers emphasize the importance of conscious thought to make good decisions, others encourage people to stop thinking and trust their snap judgments. Still others recommend a distracting activity prior to making a choice, assuming that unconscious processing of the decision problem occurs during distraction. We review studies comparing these three decision modes. We show that conscious deliberation helps people to make good decisions when people have in mind precise verbatim information about the exact features of each alternatives. By contrast, a distraction period is more useful when meaning-based gist representations of the alternatives are accessible. Finally, while a period of distraction or deliberation is beneficial for decision making under certain conditions, to blindly follow one’s gut feeling is never the right solution.
... A growing number of studies using variations of the Unconscious-Thought paradigm have showed that unconscious thought led to better decisions especially in complex decision situations (e.g., de Vries, Witteman, Holland, Dijksterhuis, Bos, van der Leij, & van Baaren, 2009;Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006;Smith et al., 2008;Strick, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2010). That means, people in the unconsciousthought condition have consistently shown higher quality decisions (e.g., choosing the most attractive object more often) than those in the other two conditions. ...
Article
Full-text available
ViraVerita Online Journal/e-dergi: In two experiments we investigated the relation between implicit justice motive and quality of decisions in complex justice-specific situations. According to Unconscious-Thought Theory (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006), people make better complex decisions when thinking unconsciously than when thinking consciously or deciding immediately. We expected that decision quality would depend on participants’ implicit justice motive (Dalbert, 2001) which operates on an unconscious level and would thus explain especially unconscious decisions. Data were obtained from a total of N = 180 individuals. Findings of both experiments suggest that participants with a strong implicit justice motive were more likely to make just decisions in the unconscious-thought condition than in both other conditions. Findings are discussed in light of the justice motive theory (Dalbert, 2001).
... A period of distraction improves complex decisions more than a period of conscious deliberation (e.g., Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & van Baaren, 2006).This finding, referred to as the unconscious-thought effect (UTE, Strick, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2010), has been interpreted as evidence that complex decisions are best made through "unconscious thought". Although the UTE has been replicated several times, many other studies failed to find evidence for the superiority of distraction over deliberation and/or immediate decisions (Acker, 2008; Nieuwenstein et al., 2015; Strick et al., 2011, for meta-analyses; Dijksterhuis & Strick, 2016; Newell & Shanks, 2014Recently, we reported two studies investigating the impact of one of the moderators of the UTE identified in Strick et al.'s meta-analysis: the presentation format of pieces of information about different options (Abadie, Waroquier, & Terrier, 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
Previous research showed that the unconscious-thought effect, which refers to an improvement in complex decision making following a distraction period, was moderated by the presentation format of pieces of information about different options. The aim of the current study was to replicate this finding and further examine the memory representations underlying decision making following a distraction or a deliberation period. Results showed that, when the information was presented blocked per option, participants were better able to differentiate the best option from the others after a distraction period than immediately after the information presentation or after a deliberation period. In addition, distracted participants retrieved more gist representations of the options when the information was presented per option. By contrast, participants were better able to differentiate the best option from the others after a deliberation period when the information was presented per attribute. Participants who deliberated also retrieved more verbatim representations when the information was presented per attribute. Finally, mediation analyses indicated that the accuracy of the evaluations of the options depends on gist memory when distracted but on verbatim memory when deliberating. These findings suggest that the effectiveness of distraction or deliberation depends on the memory representations of the different options.
... Strick, Dijksterhuis, & Van Baaren, 2010;Strick et al., 2011), it is very well possible -indeed likely -that some participants in some experiments indeed merely recall an impression they formed on-line after they were distracted. However, this alternative explanation is at odds with many other findings in the UT domain, and can easily be refuted as a more general explanation of the UT-effect. ...
Article
Full-text available
People can engage in prolonged thought processes, such as when they are facing an important decision or when they are working on a scientific discovery. Such thought processes can take months or even years. We argue that while people engage in such thinking, they make progress not only when they consciously think but also sometimes when they are consciously thinking about something else—that is, while they think unconsciously. We review the literature on unconscious thought (UT) processes and conclude that there is indeed quite some evidence for UT. Conceptualized as a form of unconscious goal pursuit, UT is likely to be especially fruitful for thought processes that are complex, important, or interesting to the thinker. In addition, we discuss other characteristics of the UT process. We end with proposing Type 3 processes, in addition to Type 1 and Type 2 (or Systems 1 and 2) processes, to accommodate prolonged thought processes in models on thought.
Chapter
This chapter finalizes the qualitative description of the complex present and two main issues are the focus of attention. First, our approach to describing intentional, goal-oriented actions is elucidated. The proposed multi-component time formalism of human actions contains two constituent components:the human temporality with complex temporal structure andphysical environment: physical objects affected by human actions and other physical objects able to influence the former objects. the human temporality with complex temporal structure and physical environment: physical objects affected by human actions and other physical objects able to influence the former objects. On the one hand, the two components possess independent degrees of freedom and are characterized by individual dynamics. On the other hand, these components affect each other. Second, confining the analysis to the complex present, we have developed our account of conscious-unconscious components of intentional, goal-oriented actions on scales about 10–20 s. The given account actually reconciles the reactive (reflexive) approach to describing human actions and the teleological concept of human goal-oriented behavior.
Article
Moments of inattention to our surroundings may be essential to optimal cognitive functioning. Here,we investigated the hypothesis that humans spontaneously switch between two opposing attentional states during wakefulness—one in which we attend to the external environment (an “online” state) and one in which we disengage from the sensory environment to focus our attention internally (an “offline” state). We created a data-driven model of this proposed alternation between “online” and “offline” attentional states in human subjects, on a seconds-level timescale. Participants ( n = 34) completed a sustained attention to response task while undergoing simultaneous high-density EEG and pupillometry recording and intermittently reporting on their subjective experience. “Online” and “offline” attentional states were initially defined using a cluster analysis applied tomultimodal measures of (1) EEG spectral power, (2) pupil diameter, (3) RT, and (4) self-reported subjective experience. We then developed a classifier that labeled trials as belonging to the online or offline cluster with >95% accuracy, without requiring subjective experience data. This allowed us to classify all 5-sec trials in this manner, despite the fact that subjective experience was probed on only a small minority of trials. We report evidence of statistically discriminable “online” and “offline” states matching the hypothesized characteristics. Furthermore, the offline state strongly predicted memory retention for one of two verbal learning tasks encoded immediately prior. Together, these observations suggest that seconds-timescale alternation between online and offline states is a fundamental feature of wakefulness and that this may serve a memory processing function.
Article
Full-text available
We report an experiment that assesses the effect of variations in memory load on brain activations that mediate verbal working memory. The paradigm that forms the basis of this experiment is the "n-back" task in which subjects must decide for each letter in a series whether it matches the one presented n items back in the series. This task is of interest because it recruits processes involved in both the storage and manipulation of information in working memory. Variations in task difficulty were accomplished by varying the value of n. As n increased, subjects showed poorer behavioral performance as well as monotonically increasing magnitudes of brain activation in a large number of sites that together have been identified with verbal working-memory processes. By contrast, there was no reliable increase in activation in sites that are unrelated to working memory. These results validate the use of parametric manipulation of task variables in neuroimaging research, and they converge with the subtraction paradigm used most often in neuroimaging. In addition, the data support a model of working memory that includes both storage and executive processes that recruit a network of brain areas, all of which are involved in task performance.
Article
Full-text available
Judges who had estimated the likelihood of various possible outcomes of President Nixon's trips to Peking and Moscow were unexpectedly asked to remember, or reconstruct in the event that they had forgotten, their own predictions some time after the visits were completed. In addition, they indicated whether or not they thought that each event had in fact occurred. Remembered—reconstructed probabilities were generally higher than the originally assigned probabilities for events believed to have occurred and lower for those which had not (although the latter effect was less pronounced). In their original predictions, subjects overestimated low probabilities and underestimated high probabilities, although they were generally quite accurate. Judging by their reconstructed—remembered probabilities, however, subjects seldom perceived having been very surprised by what had or had not happened. These results are discussed in terms of cognitive “anchoring” and possible detrimental effects of outcome feedback.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
We present a theory about human thought named the unconscious-thought theory (UTT). The theory is applicable to decision making, impression formation, attitude formation and change, problem solving, and creativity. It distinguishes between two modes of thought: unconscious and conscious. Unconscious thought and conscious thought have different characteristics, and these different characteristics make each mode preferable under different circumstances. For instance, contrary to popular belief, decisions about simple issues can be better tackled by conscious thought, whereas decisions about complex matters can be better approached with unconscious thought. The relations between the theory and decision strategies, and between the theory and intuition, are discussed. We end by discussing caveats and future directions. © 2006 Association for Psychological Science.
Article
Recent research has shown that unconscious thought can improve the quality of complex decisions [Dijksterhuis, A. (2004). Think different: The merits of unconscious thought in preference development and decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,87, 586–598; Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M.W., Nordgren, L.F., & van Baaren, R. B. (2006). On Making the Right Choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311(5763), 1005–1007]. In the present research, we investigate whether unconscious thought is goal-dependent. In four experiments participants were given information pertaining to a decision problem or to an impression formation problem. Subsequently, they were either given time to think consciously about the information or they were distracted for some time, during which they could engage in unconscious thought. Of the participants that were distracted, however, some were given the goal to further process the information, whereas others were not given such a goal. Our experiments clearly show that unconscious thought is goal-dependent. Without a goal, people do not engage in unconscious thought.
Article
According to the auto-motive model (J. A. Bargh, 1990), intentions and goals are represented mentally and, as representations, should be capable of nonconscious activation by the environmental context (i.e., "priming"). To test this hypothesis, the authors replicated 2 well-known experiments that had demonstrated differential effects of varying the information-processing goal (impression formation or memorization) on processing the identical behavioral information. However, instead of giving participants the goals via explicit instructions, as had been done in the original studies. the authors primed the impression formation or memorization goal. In both cases, the original pattern of results was reproduced. The findings thus support the hypothesis that the effect of activated goals is the same whether the activation is nonconscious or through an act of will. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Past research in consumer behavior typically assumes that distraction during the decision process needs to be avoided. However, a common piece of advice given to consumers who have to make complex decisions is to distract their attention away from the decision problem for some moments. The current research shows that distraction can indeed help consumers to differentiate attractive from unattractive products. Yet this occurs only for consumers with a configural mind&hyphen;set who tend to form coherent representations of products in their memory. For consumers with a featural mind&hyphen;set, who typically hold mixed product representations, distraction does not affect product evaluations. This implies that it is the specific processing mind&hyphen;set of consumers that determines whether distraction leads to more product differentiation or not.
Article
This work compares conscious thought and unconscious thought in relation to quality of choice. Earlier work [Dijksterhuis, A. (2004). Think different: The merits of unconscious thought in preference development and decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 586–598] has shown that people make better choices after engaging in unconscious thought (i.e., unconscious activity during a period of distraction) rather than in conscious thought. However, the evidence was obtained for choices between hypothetical alternatives with quality of choice operationalized normatively. As quality of decision is essentially subjective, in the current experiment participants chose between real objects with quality operationalized as post-choice satisfaction. In a paradigm based on work by Wilson and colleagues [Wilson, T. D., Lisle, D., Schooler, J. W., Hodges, S. D., Klaaren, K. J., & LaFleur, S. J. (1993). Introspecting about reasons can reduce post-choice satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 331–339], participants were briefly presented with five art posters, and chose one either (a) immediately, (b) after thorough conscious thinking about each poster, or (c) after a period of distraction. Participants took their favorite poster home and were phoned 3–5 weeks later. As hypothesized, unconscious thinkers were more satisfied with their choice than participants in the other two conditions.
Article
In this article, we argue that when forming justice judgments, unconscious thought can lead to more accurate justice judgments than both conscious thought and immediate judgment. In two experiments, participants formed justice judgments about complex job application procedures. Specifcally, participants made comparative justice judgments (Experiment 1) or absolute justice judgments on rating scales (Experiment 2). In immediate judgment conditions, participants made a justice judgment immediately after reading the stimulus materials. In conscious thought conditions, participants consciously thought about their justice judgment for 3 minutes. In unconscious thought conditions, participants were distracted for 3 minutes and then reported their justice judgments. As predicted, fndings of both experiments show that unconscious thinkers made the most accurate justice judgments. These results provide a new perspective on the social psychology of justice judgments and yield additional insight into unconscious thinking.