Is it better to think unconsciously or to trust your first impression? A reassessment of unconscious thought theory


According to Unconscious Thought Theory (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006), complex decisions are best made after a period of distraction assumed to elicit “unconscious thought”. Here, we suggest instead that the superiority of decisions made after distraction results from the fact that conscious deliberation can deteriorate impressions formed online during information acquisition. We found that participants instructed to form an impression made better decisions after distraction than after deliberation, thereby replicating earlier findings. However, decisions made immediately were just as good as decisions made after distraction, which suggests (1) that people had already made their decision during information acquisition, (2) that deliberation-without-attention does not occur during distraction, and (3) that ruminating about one's first impression can deteriorate decision quality. Strikingly, in another condition that should have favored unconscious thought even more, deliberated decisions were better than immediate or distracted decisions. These findings were replicated in a field study.



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