Often make a decision, this is specially

Often
we have to decide between various options so as to come to a conclusion. For
doing this most people resort to techniques taught to them by their parents and
teachers i.e. think carefully about all the options you have so as to make a decision,
this is specially used when the decision is an important one like deciding what
majors to take, which apartment to buy, selecting a holiday destination etc. it
is a rather long and thoughtful process which ensures us that the decision made
is a right one. However sometimes it is also advised to “sleep on” a problem
before coming to a conclusion or making a decision. Here people rely on the
unconscious thought and feel that intuitively unconscious thought will help in
the decision making process.

This
idea/thought that unconscious thought aids an individual to help make a decision is
explored in this experiment.

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Decision
making is the process through which we select an alternative out of other
alternatives by thinking carefully about the pros and cons for achieving a
particular goal. Conscious and unconscious thought in this context are defined
as; Conscious thought refers to the cognitive and/or affective task-relevant
processes one is consciously aware of while attending to a task. Unconscious
thought, on the other hand, refers to cognitive and/or affective task-relevant
processes that take place outside conscious awareness. A little introspection
reveals that the processing capacity of consciousness is limited. People are
not able to concentrate consciously on two different things simultaneously.
Researchers started to try to measure the
processing capacity of consciousness and the unconscious. Miller (1956)
demonstrated that the maximum amount of information that can be kept under
conscious scrutiny at any given time is about seven units. In contrast, the
processing capacity of the entire human system, or, in other words, of
conscious and unconscious processes combined, is enormous. Therefore it follows that unconscious doesn’t have a
capacity problem. Thus due to the low processing capacity of consciousness, it
is not the task at hand the makes it difficult to make complex decisions but
the amount of information involved may be too much to tackle.  For e.g. when one has to choose which
colleges/universities to apply for master’s in a particular subject there are
many factors that have to be considered. Some colleges are more recognized and
have a better ranking than others, some have better course options, is the
teaching faculty efficient, are there any on campus placements, do they provide
scholarship etc. other than this each college/university has its own pros and
cons. Due to the low capacity of 
consciousness it is likely that it will prevent one from taking all this
information into consideration and might lead to dealing with only a subset of
information, which will eventually affect the final decision.

Previous work by Wilson, Schooler, and colleagues
provides evidence for consciousness being a poor decision maker because of its
limited capacity. Wilson and Schooler (1991; Schooler & Melcher, 1995;
Schooler, Ohlsson, & Brooks, 1993; Wilson et al., 1993) in their experiment
participants had to evaluate objects, like different college courses. The
participants were randomly assigned to the two conditions. In one condition
participants were just asked to evaluate different objects, here they most
likely engaged in little conscious thought. In another condition, participants
were asked to carefully analyze the reason behind their evaluation and write
down the reasons. Here they engaged in more conscious thought. Results showed
that this didn’t help them, in fact participants who thought less did a better
job. Additional evidence suggested conscious thought led the participants to
focus on a limited number of attributes in exchange of taking into account
other relevant attributes. Other
evidence comes from Pelham and Neter (1995). They asked participants to solve
various problems. Some problems were transparent and easy to solve, whereas
others were difficult to solve, and participants had to avoid the risk of
heuristics leading them off track. Some people were simply asked to solve the
problems, whereas others were strongly motivated to solve the problems
accurately. This increased motivation helped participants to be more accurate
on the easy problems, but it hindered solving the complex problems. If one is
willing to assume that the motivated participants engaged in more conscious
thinking, the results support the notion of consciousness as a low capacity
system. Ironically, more conscious thought reduced the chance that people took
crucial information into account.

One more
important factor that aids in decision making is the ability to integrate
information in a meaningful way and put it to use, meaning thinking about the
well-integrated information to make decisions. Hence when too much information
is to be dealt with consciousness may suffer a “power cut” due to its low
capacity. But if the information is within its capacity, consciousness is a
good thinker. So by now we already know that conscious is a good thinker, the
question that arises is if unconscious is a good thinker? Unconscious has a
vast processing capacity and if it uses a small part of its vast processing
capacity it can be very useful. However it won’t be of any help if it shut down
i.e. not put to use. Incubation is way were unconscious thought is put to use. Researchers have recognized the importance of
incubation, the process
whereby a problem is consciously ignored for a while, after which the unconscious
offers a solution. Incubation helps in integrating the information to aid the
decision making
process. This
study is based on the experiment conducted by Social Psychologist Albert Jan
“Ap” Dijksterhuis. Here the participants are presented with information about 4
apartments and are then asked to rate each apartments. Apartments were
described with both positive and negative attributes and one was made rather desirable and another
one
rather undesirable. In the experiments, filler apartments were included
in order to increase the complexity of the decision
problem. These fillers were constructed to be neutral. Some participants were
provided with the relevant information and had to rate the
apartments immediately afterward. This
condition is the immediate decision condition. Participants in the conscious
thought condition were given a few minutes to think about the information
before they decided. This condition is deliberate condition. Finally, participants in the unconscious
thought condition were distracted for a few minutes before they decided,
thereby enabling them to think unconsciously while at the same time preventing conscious thought. This
condition is the distracted condition. The aim for the current study was to
study the effect of unconscious thought on decision making. This study will
help us to gain more insight about the unconscious processes and how they
affect decision making and preference development in the real world.