Shifting goals for unconscious thinkers : using reevaluation to test between fuzzy intuition and an active unconscious
Rivers, Andrew Michael
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Accumulating evidence suggests that slow deliberative processes may actively integrate information even while conscious attention is distracted away from task-relevant activities (Dijksterhuis, 2004). In typical experiments supporting this idea, participants receive complex information about target objects and then report judgments on those targets immediately, after 3min in which to think, or after a 3min distraction task that arguably disrupts conscious thinking but not unconscious thinking. Typical results demonstrate that individuals form better judgments in the latter condition relative to participants in other conditions, a finding dubbed the Deliberation-Without-Attention effect. This effect is predicted and well explained by Unconscious Thought Theory. However, an alternative explanation derived from the Fuzzy-Trace Theory of memory may account for observed patterns of results without assuming an active, sophisticated unconscious thought process. To date, no published research directly tests these two potential alternatives. The current experiment intends to conclusively test between Unconscious Thought Theory and Fuzzy-Trace Theory as alternative explanations for the effect by shifting the goal for successful judgments after the information is presented. According to Unconscious Thought Theory, an active unconscious thought process should be able to reevaluate information according to an updated goal. A passive memory process, on the other hand, is by definition unable to engage in this type of active reevaluation. Data show both memory and unconscious thought processes are at work. As predicted by Fuzzy-Trace Theory, decisions tend to generally reflect overall evaluations rather than updated goals. However, participants who are comfortable with ambiguity do reevaluate information during a distraction period when they have the goal to do so. This finding cannot be rectified with Fuzzy-Trace Theory, strongly suggesting that Fuzzy-Trace Theory is not a viable comprehensive explanation for the Deliberation- Without-Attention effect.