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Is Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” right about the power of unconscious decision making?

One of the many interesting points Gladwell makes in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is that experts on a subject often make better decisions when they don’t consciously thinking about it — when they “trust their gut.” This study supports that:

In two experiments, we investigated the effects of expertise and mode of thought on the accuracy of people’s predictions. Both experts and nonexperts predicted the results of soccer matches after conscious thought, after unconscious thought, or immediately. In Experiment 1, experts who thought unconsciously outperformed participants in all other conditions. Whereas unconscious thinkers showed a correlation between expertise and accuracy of prediction, no such relation was observed for conscious thinkers or for immediate decision makers. In Experiment 2, this general pattern was replicated. In addition, experts who thought unconsciously were better at applying diagnostic information than experts who thought consciously or who decided immediately. The results are consistent with unconscious-thought theory.

Source: “Predicting soccer matches after unconscious and conscious thought as a function of expertise.” from Psychol Sci. 2009 Nov;20(11):1381-7. Epub 2009 Oct 8.

Along the same lines, Jonah Lehrer’s excellent book How We Decide recommends trusting our unconscious mind for more complex decisions with many variables.

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About Eric Barker