Does Instinct Find the Best Answer?
You’re more likely to perform well if you do NOT think too hard, and instead trust your instincts. Research shows that in some cases, instinctive snap decisions are more reliable than decisions reached using higher-level cognitive.
Participants at University College London (UCL) were asked to identify the odd symbol on a screen covered with over 650 identical symbols. They performed better when they were given no time at all to linger on the symbols, and were forced to rely entirely on their subconscious.
Dr Li Zhaoping of the UCL Department of Psychology, said: “This finding seems counter-intuitive. You would expect people to make more accurate decisions when given the time to look properly. Instead they performed better when given almost no time to think. The conscious or top-level function of the brain apparently vetoes our initial subconscious decision — even when it is correct — leaving us unaware or distrustful of our instincts and at an immediate disadvantage. Falling back on our inbuilt, involuntary subconscious processes for certain tasks is actually more effective than using our higher-level cognitive functions.”
Given only a tiny fraction of a second to observe the target, subjects performed with 95 per cent accuracy. With over a second to scrutinize the image, subjects were only 70 per cent accurate. With more than four seconds when subjects had time to engage their higher-level functions, their decisions were more likely to be wrong.
Dr Zhaoping said: “Often our instincts and higher-level functions are in conflict, and in this case our instincts are often silenced by our reasoning conscious mind. Participants would have improved their performance if they had been able to switch off their higher-level cognition by, for example, acting quickly.”
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