Introspection takes another beating

Thinking Too Much: Introspection Can Reduce the Quality of Preferences and Decisions


We have just begun to explore the conditions under which people should and should not reflect about the reasons for their preferences, thus to make broad claims about the dangers of introspection would be inappropriate (or at least premature). Perhaps the best conclusion at this point is a variation of Socrates’ oft-quoted statement that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” We suggest that, at least at times, the unexamined choice is worth making.

  1. madhuri said:

    Very few people actually overanalyze – my guess is less than 1% of population. i think you’d have to meet the following preconditions:

    a) have the mental inclination to overanalysis,
    b) live in a relatively wealthy and liberal society,
    c1) be between the ages of 20s and mid 30s to have the time to overanalyze, or,
    c2) over mid 30s, but without family responsibilities

    If you meet all of the above conditions, with overanalysis, maybe you have a slightly lower chance of hitting optimal solution. But, you have the satisfaction of getting to the solution your way, which might be very important to you (people fitting above conditions also tend to value the freedom to figure things out their way).

  2. Both kinds of introspection caused people to make choices that, compared with control subjects’, corresponded less with expert opinion. Analyzing reasons can focus people’s attention on nonoptimal criteria, causing them to base their subsequent choices on these criteria. Evaluating multiple attributes can moderate people’s judgments, causing them to discriminate less between the different alternatives.

    I am going to understand this as
    since the control groups opinion corresponded more with that of experts, the ‘experts’ normally have less introspection.. in other words, their opinions are as intuitive and as less well considered as people who don’t think too much. wondering if this implies that once they are labelled ‘experts’, they may stop being that.. their minds may be clouded by their own power

    • unawoken said:

      What? Why?
      I agree that it is possible to look at it this way, but I wonder why this is your preferred take-away from this paper.

      I discussed this subject with some others, and they too focussed on the “expertise” of experts, not like you, but in a different way.

      Why would you not interpret this as per the more straightforward (to me) explanation:

      Considering choices and thinking about them made them make less optimal choices?

      • unawoken said:

        BTW there are many things I would object to in your take. But at this point I am more interested in why you chose this conclusion rather than the straightforward one.

  3. in our field, once somebody becomes well known, their intuitive ideas in daily practice are taken at face value. They seem to make sense, but when studied in controlled setting the results may be different. The expertise i think may have a halo effect, both on others and themselves. if an expert knew his/her opinion would be valued without examination, i think there would be a loss of critical examination of their own opinions.
    If my thinking is correct, it would become especially true in such subjective outcomes as tea tasters or jam tasters.

    • unawoken said:

      You didn’t yet tell me why you didn’t go for the simpler explanation.

      Notice also that the nature of the experts is different in the two studies.

      Moreover it seems way too contorted to say that terming someone experts instantly makes them non-experts. I am not saying this is wrong, but why are you promoting this interpretation over many others?

    • unawoken said:

      Also going by your own admission, would you cease to trust the experts in your field and take my opinion, for instance, on the subject instead of the expert’s, if I promise to think about 5 things that are important for that situation?

      I find your position a bit strange.

  4. terming someone experts instantly makes them non-experts.- I meant it as a gradual erosion, not instantly.
    Comparing with medical studies may be a stretch. but we can try

    ok now, the three groups are non-experts non-introspectors, non-expert introspectors and experts. the second group to me is equivalent to a case controlled study where all variables are being considered (it is fair to say this because it is a subjective-outcome study). If the results are consistently showing same opinions from first & third groups, the conclusion would be that they think similarly…

    btw, I would take opinions in this order: controlled studies, expert opinions & you 🙂
    ok seriously now, i think this study is more about making choices on their own than about taking other’s opinion. so a better question would be
    “would I go with my introspected decision or an expert’s decision” my non introspected decision is more likely to be same as the expert’s decision.

  5. ok i went through it quickly again. Regardless of whether their choices deviated from that of the experts or not, the introspectors were unhappy with their choices a few weeks later. This probably supports the theory of introspection decreasing the quality.

    If on the other hand, even while deviating from expert opinion, subjects were happy with their decision, it would not prove introspection decreases quality…

  6. wait a minute, aah since my non-introspected decision corresponds more with that of experts, just taking experts’ opinion is more likely to have me happy later on.. ? hmm…

  7. unawoken said:

    exactly! In fact this is the basis of the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert. I recommend you read it. We trust our intuitions too much.

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