Think, blink or sleep on it? the impact of modes of thought on complex decision making

Ben R. Newell, Kwan Yao Wong, J. C H Cheung, Tim Rakow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines controversial claims about the merit of unconscious thought for making complex decisions. In four experiments, participants were presented with complex decisions and were asked to choose the best option immediately, after a period of conscious deliberation, or after a period of distraction (said to encourage unconscious thought processes). In all experiments the majority of participants chose the option predicted by their own subjective attribute weighting scores, regardless of the mode of thought employed. There was little evidence for the superiority of choices made unconsciously, but some evidence that conscious deliberation can lead to better choices. The final experiment suggested that the task is best conceptualized as one involving online judgement rather than one in which decisions are made after periods of deliberation or distraction. The results suggest that we should be cautious in accepting the advice to stop thinking about complex decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707-732
Number of pages26
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2009


  • Decision making
  • Deliberation
  • Online judgement
  • Unconscious thought


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