Evidence for unconscious thought in complex decisions : the result of a methodological artifact or of an active thought process

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Previous research has suggested that a period of unconscious thought can result in judgments that are equal or superior to those of conscious thought (Dijksterhuis, 2004). The existence of unconscious thought as a decision-making process is controversial. In fact, it has been suggested that unconscious thought is not a process rather the evidence supporting it is the result of a methodological artifact (Lassiter et al., in press) that only occurs when participants can retrieve online judgments. This thesis attempts to resolve this controversy. Participants received information describing 4 cars (acquisition stage) that were described by twelve dichotomous attributes (e.g., good/poor mileage). The best car possessed mostly positive characteristics and the worst car had mostly negative characteristics. Participants were told before or after the information was presented, that they would be forming an impression of the four cars. They were then allowed to think about the cars consciously for 4 minutes, were distracted for 4 minutes (unconscious thought), or were asked to make an immediate decision without thinking. When the instructions to form an impression were received before acquiring the information, the participants could form online judgments during acquisition. These could later be retrieved when participants reported their attitudes. When the instructions to form an impression were received after participants acquired the information, they could not form online judgments, but could form only memory-based judgments after the information was presented. Without online judgments, participants are forced to rely on memory-based judgments. Thus, if participants in the unconscious-thought condition formed more favorable attitudes toward the best car relative to the attitudes formed by the participants in the other two conditions, a thought process must be occurring. Additionally, these attitudes should transfer to choosing the best car as well. However, the results of this thesis failed to replicate previous research (Lassiter et al., in press) as the dependent measures failed to reach significance.




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