Unconscious Thought Theory (Psychlopedia)
Unconscious thought theory, outlined by Dijksterhuis and Nordgren (2006), characterizes the contexts inwhich individuals should rely on their intuition, at least after some delay, rather than consider issues anddecisions carefully and systematically. In particular, Dijksterhuis and colleagues differentiated twoapproaches that can be applied to reach decisions and to uncover creative suggestions. First, individuals canreflect upon the issue consciously, deliberately, methodically, logically, and analytically. They could, for example, compare two job applicants on various attributes in sequence--such as experience, qualifications,knowledge, skill, interest, experience, and style--ascertaining which of the individuals demonstrates the mostnumber of strengths. Second, individuals can utilize their intuitive preferences, which seem to emanate froma set of unconscious processes. They might, for instance, consider the applicants briefly, distract themselvesfor a while, and then trust their instinctive reactions (for a related distinction, seeCognitive experientialtheory).
Benefits of conscious thinking
According to this theory, conscious thinking is superior to unconscious thinking in some circumstance, butinferior in other contexts. In particular, conscious thinking is superior when individuals need to generate precise responses, such as an answer to the question what is 5 x 8.2. A conscious, analytical process is likelyto derive the answer of 41. In contrast, an unconscious, intuitive process is likely to generate a moreapproximate answer, such as 50.Because conscious thinking can generate more precise estimates, this approach is also more effective whenindividuals need to decide between alternatives that vary on two or three attributes only. For example,Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, and Van Baaren (2007) showed that individuals are more inclined to choose theappropriate towel or oven mitt-- products that vary on a few characteristics only--when they considered their purchase consciously and methodically rather than intuitively.
Benefits of unconscious thinking
When the alternatives vary on many attributes, or the implications of these qualities are unclear or unpredictable, such as when individuals need to decide which house or car to purchase, unconscious thinkingensures better decisions than does conscious thinking (Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & Van Baaren, 2007). Incontrast to conscious thinking, in which only a circumscribed set of factors can be considered at a time,unconscious thinking is able to incorporate, weight, and integrate unlimited information to optimizedecisions.Dijksterhuis (2004) showed that unconscious thoughts somehow organize information more effectively thanconscious thinking. For example, in one study, Dijksterhuis presented 18 descriptions of one person: six of these descriptions related to the intelligence of this person, another six of these descriptions related to theextraversion of this individual, and finally six of these descriptions related to political orientation.