An Experiment in Choosing the Best Apartment
Imagine this. Four fictitious apartments are assigned 12 attributes each. Things like “has an attractive look”, “is fairly large”, “has a bad landlord”, and “is in a noisy” neighborhood. These attributes had been pretested and set up in a way that there was a clear choice on the best apartment (a lot more positive attributes) and a clear choice on the worst (a lot more negative attributes). The other two apartments were neutral.
The subjects of the experiment were then presented the attributes of the apartments one at a time. After all the attributes of the four apartments were presented, they were asked to make their choice for the best apartment. They were divided into three groups. One group was asked to make an immediate decision. The second group was given time to think about their decision before making it. The third group was given the same amount of time to complete a distracting task and then they were asked to make a decision. The distraction task was an intensive working memory task to ensure the subjects couldn’t be consciously thinking about the apartment. These groups were labeled “immediate”, “conscious”, and “unconscious” respectively.
The bottom line results were that the “unconscious” group consistently produced the best results. For some reason, pondering the decision and consciously trying to pick the best apartment was not much better than the immediate group that had no time to think about it. Why would this be so? You would think that the conscious group’s unconscious mind would also be working on the problem during their conscious thinking time and thus they would get additional benefit from having both minds working the same problem. With more power on the problem shouldn’t the conscious group produce the best results?