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Note: Cross posted from STATIC Youth’s Weblog.

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Bachalpsee in the morning, Bernese Alps

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Each and everyday we all wake with the opportunity to make a difference in our lives. We awake with an newness that only exist in that moment. The moment before reality sets in. What we chose to do with that moment can make or break our day.

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Good Advice…. 
Go to fullsize imageWe’re often told, “You should sleep on it” before you make an important decision. Why is that? How does “sleeping on it” help your decision-making process?

Conventional wisdom suggests that by “sleeping on it,” we clear our minds and relieve ourselves of the immediacy (and accompanying stress) of making a decision. Sleep also helps organize our memories, process the information of the day, and solve problems. Such wisdom also suggests that conscious deliberation helps decision making in general. But new research (Dijksterhuis et al., 2009) suggests something else might also be at work – our unconscious.

Previous research suggests that sometimes the more consciously we think about a decision, the worse the decision made. Sometimes what’s needed is a period of unconscious thought – equivalent to “sleeping on it” according to the researchers – in order to make better decisions. Here’s how they study this phenomenon:

“[… In a] typical experiment demonstrating this effect, participants choose between a few objects (e.g., apartments), each described by multiple aspects. The objects differ in desirability, and after reading the descriptions, participants are asked to make their choice following an additional period of conscious thought or unconscious thought. In the original experiments, unconscious thinkers made better decisions than conscious thinkers when the decisions were complex.”

The researchers suggest that unconscious thought, contrary to the way many of us think about it, is an active, goal-directed thought process. The primary difference is that in unconscious thought, the usual biases that are a part of our conscious thinking are absent. In unconscious thought, we weigh the importance of the components that make up our decision more equally, leaving our preconceptions at the door of consciousness.

So this is all fine and good, but how you do take laboratory findings and adapt them to a real-world experience to show that unconscious thinkers think better (e.g., with less distortions or biases)? One way to do this is to look at sports, because our weighting of different components is done beforehand and individually – not as an artificial variable manipulated by the researchers.

Each week over a period of 6 weeks, the researchers took 352 undergraduates from the University of Amsterdam and asked them to predict the outcome of four different upcoming soccer matches. Participants expertise about soccer was measured, and then they were asked to predict the result of each of the four upcoming soccer matches.

“[Then] participants were divided into three experimental conditions. In the immediate condition, participants saw the four matches on the computer screen and were asked to provide their answers in 20 s[econds].

“In both the conscious-thought and the unconscious-thought conditions, participants saw the four matches on the computer screen for 20 s[econds] and were told they would have to predict the outcomes later on.

“Conscious-thought participants were told they had an additional 2 min to think about the matches. Unconscious-thought participants were told they would do something else for 2 min and performed a two-back task designed to occupy conscious processing.”

A second experiment was conducted on another group of undergraduates to replicate the findings and understand more about the underlying process.

What did they find?

“These experiments demonstrate that among experts, unconscious thought leads to better predictions of soccer results than either conscious thought or quick, immediate guesses.

“Experiment 2 sheds light on why this may be so: Unconscious thinkers seem to be better at using the appropriate information to arrive at their estimates. Unconscious thinkers who had more accurate knowledge about the single best prediction criterion (world ranking) made better predictions. This was not true for conscious thinkers or for immediate decision makers.”

Just to emphasize this finding – if you’re an expert and you had extra time to think about your decision in the area of your expertise (conscious thinker) or had to make a quick decision, you made worse decisions than those who were unconscious thinkers. The researcher hypothesize that conscious thought can lead to poor weighting in decision-making – the more you think about something, the more your biases interfere with good decision-making.

Unconscious thinkers in this experiment appear to weight the relative importance of diagnostic information more accurately than conscious thinkers did.

As always, these results must be taken with a grain of salt. The experiment was conducted only on undergraduates and may not generalize to other age groups or people with different educational backgrounds. Furthermore, other research has not found a significant performance difference between unconscious thinkers and conscious thinkers, and unconscious thought is not always the mode to rely on when faced with a complex decision (e.g., you can’t use this for gambling and certain kinds of information).

But for certain kinds of decisions – those that are complex and where you have some expertise – “sleeping on it” may be more helpful than spending minutes or hours of conscious thought on it. The brain makes good unconscious decisions, when we let it.

Dr. John Grohol is the CEO and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992. This article was provided by PsychCentral.com.

LiveScience.com chronicles the daily advances and innovations made in science and technology. We take on the misconceptions that often pop up around scientific discoveries and deliver short, provocative explanations with a certain wit and style. Check out our science videos, Trivia & Quizzes and Top 10s. Join our community to debate hot-button issues like stem cells, climate change and evolution. You can also sign up for free newsletters, register for RSS feeds and get cool gadgets at the LiveScience Store.

John M. Grohol, PSYD
PsychCentral.com
LiveScience.com John M. Grohol, Psyd
psychcentral.com
livescience.com
Mon Oct 26, 11:27 pm ET

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I am often reminded that I allow my mind to take off with ideas, I run with them, even if it is in my own mind and allow them to take over, for a little bit anyway. I will admit I do this, and I enjoy the process. It happens when something excites me, a new idea for a book or blog, an exciting idea for a new business venture or youth activity. In truth it really don’t matter the topic, if it excites me, that’s all it takes, my mind is off and running.

My sister will often times tell me it’s time to get back in to reality, time to start to see things as they really are. And to some degree I agree with her, but not 100%. I enjoy my time in my mind; I like to dream about what could be, or how I can make it so. It exercises my imagination, and that is never a bad thing.

When we had our Catholic book store, my mind was in high gear, I often found it hard to sleep, but I had more energy than I had had in some time, even without sleep, the same was true when I first started to create the youth program. The excitement and newness gives me energy, it flues my day and my mind races think about all the possibilities.

Now I will be the first to admit I often times take it too far, thinking about 20 catholic book stores worldwide, or the youth program in all the parishes in the United States. And once again my partners would have to bring me back to reality, mostly my sister because my other partner would get caught up in my dreams. I truly enjoy the trips I would take to the reality I want, it allows me to live in the perfect world I have created, the one I want to manifest here and now.

To me the dreams are often times more important that the current reality, I feel that we must have a plan, a road we must travel and a destination we must head towards. That’s what my dreams are, they are my plans, and they map out my roads and show me my destination. I visualize what I want, and strive to achieve it.

We must dream big, we must strive for the unachievable if we ever wish to achieve anything. Electricity was only an unachievable dream until Ben Franklin dreamed it true; the computer was the stuff of B rate movies until someone dared to dream it in to reality. We have the power to create our here and now, but only if we are willing to dream it, only if we are brave enough to dream it out load and make it a reality.

I, for one, will continue to dream large, to dream beyond my current capabilities, and one day I will dream it long enough and hard enough that it will become a reality. Until that day, I will continue to let my mind go where it chooses, and let the dreams flow…

Paul

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