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  1. #1
    Senior Member Grace's Avatar
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    Default Gut Feelings vs. Rationalizing

    This is an interesting radio show on choice, priming and free will. It's about an hour long but has some really neat stuff on psychological experiments and whatnot that have been conducted in this area. I've summarized some key points below, in case you do not have time/feel like lisening to the show.

    WNYC - Radiolab: Choice (November 14, 2008)



    In the radio show Schwartz talked about how having too many opportunities can be overwhelming. He described this as choice angst. He talked about the magic number seven, plus or minus two. This means that the mind can only hold roughly seven items in it at one time, and this can result in screwing up reason. They gave support for this in a study where they had people memorize either two or seven numbers. The people who were in the process of memorizing two numbers, when asked if they wanted a bowl of fruit or a piece of chocolate cake, chose fruit over cake more often than those people in the process of memorizing seven numbers. This indicates that memorizing seven numbers preoccupied their reasoning skills so it was more difficult for them to choose the practical thing, that is, the bowl of fruit. Since I know that I would choose the chocolate cake in any situation, I wonder what this says about my reasoning skills? Perhaps this is what it means to have dominate Ni and barely any Ti (my case)?
    The radio show also discusses how emotions play an important role in decision making. They describe a gut feeling as a short hand average of past wisdom. So, when standing in a cereal aisle, it doesnít take a whole day to pick a cereal because your gut feeling will tell you that you want Crackliní Oat Brans because your past experiences with that cereal were overall good. This allows you to make a snap decision, "I want this cereal!" without really knowing why. Another study was concuted where free posters were given out, either an impressionistic poster or a poster of a cat hanging ("Hang in There"). One condition of the experiment was that the people had to explain why they chose what they did, and in the other condition they did not need to make an explaination. What they found was that people who had to explain their choice more often chose the cat picture, and also ended up disliking their picture more six months after the experiment. They didnít go into great detail as to why this was, but it could have something to do with the fact that they made people rationalize a choice that is usually made on gut reaction. Because they had to rationalize it, they chose poorly because they were falling ill to the magic number seven effect, where they were trying to rationally compare too many things in their head about the posters so they ended up making the wrong choice. I.e., this one is bigger but this one is prettier but this one is cuter but this one is funnier but this one....



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  2. #2
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    It's funny I read this post since I heard this radiolab a while back since a friend recommended it because they have a section about being bewildered while shopping at Berkeley Bowl (which is where I shop) since there are so many choices for things it drives you a bit batty (like 15 kinds of apples). One of the points in the segment was the guy making the impulse decision got an apple he liked better than the guy who analyzed it for for a long time before choosing. That and comparing so many options becomes more or less hard to impossible.

    As I recall, part of the point was that it becomes much harder to compare more than a few things against each other at a time because you can't really hold them in your short term memory (rule of 7 plus or minus 2 limited memory space). Sometimes making a decision on what is most appealing works better than a rational decision that may be difficult to make. Probably especially true when the decision isn't all that important, since who wants to spend their lives agonizing over unimportant decisions and wasting so much time when the consequences aren't very big.

    I think part of the point is that when you are expected to give a reason for a decision it changes the decision making process and also might mean you make up a rational reason after the fact, even if you didn't choose something because of a rational reason.

    It also seems to me that many decisions in life have a big component of preference, which probably isn't all that rational. For example, I'm madly in love with the person I'm currently dating, but I know most people wouldn't be. There are some possibly rational components for the attraction (stability, safety, success) but I'd still be pretty attracted even if these were less than they are, so are just icing on the cake.

    I'm not sure if you had other things you wanted to bring up, but I for me, it seems like most decisions combine both rational and irrational factors.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Grace's Avatar
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    Yeah, I guess I just thought this was somewhat relevant to MBTI because it seems like it could be Ni vs. Ti sort of.

    As a Ti dom, when you make decisions like choosing a cereal, for instance, do you rationalize it or just pick?

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    Yeah, I bet the different personalities do choose differently. It's an interesting topic.

    Personally, I tend to be something of an impulse shopper for food if I want to try something new, then I just grab something novel that looks interesting. I picked up a Turban Squash one time which is a really weird looking squash. I kept looking for a recipe for how to cook it on the internet and finally found one. It turned out to be pretty terrible tasting and I found out later that it's mainly an ornamental. It was stupid, but I've found stuff I liked that way, too. I don't mind leaving things open and experimenting.

    If it's something I know I more or less like and want to get it I might compare brands for prices, but get essentially similar things when I shop.

    For more expensive purchases sometimes I read all the reviews I can find and compare for weeks before choosing, but I think I narrow it down to a general class and a smaller number of items as soon as I can.

    In other cases, I might see what I think is a great sale. Usually I'll verify from other sources to be sure it's as good as it seems and then just buy.

    How do other people deal with decisions when there are so many choices?

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    If you'd like to read more about this topic, try Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness or Timothy Wilson's Strangers To Ourselves. Gilbert's book is highly readable, Wilson's just slightly less so. Both books show through research that most choices, opinions, strongly held beliefs, etc. are not particularly rational, but primarily formed through impulse and forces beyond our control that we then create justifications for if challenged. Wilson is additionally useful because he shows how to access your adaptive unconscious to better understand yourself and make more rational choices. (As you might have guessed, this isn't just about breakfast cereal, but career choices, how you discipline your kids, your choice of friends, how you deal with stress and so on!)

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