Thinking Can Be Dangerous: How Increased Cognitive Deliberation about Political Candidates Impedes Political Decision Making
Verhulst, Bradley James
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Recent empirical evidence suggests that unconscious thinking, or the problem-solving that occurs when a person's conscious attention is directed at some other task, improves the quality of decisions that people make. This finding has very exciting implications of political decision making, as most people are generally uninterested in politics. As such, by learning to harness the power of unconscious thought processes, people may be able to increase the accuracy of their political decisions without necessarily increasing the effort that they consciously expend during the decision making process.To examine the effectiveness of unconscious thinking for political decision making, an experimental paradigm was adapted from the decision making process examined in the existing literature to ensure that the two processes were theoretically equivalent. More specifically, across five experiments, participants first learned the political preferences of several candidates vying for office, and then were randomly assigned to think about the information they learned consciously, unconsciously or not at all. After thinking, participants decided which candidate they would vote for. Participants voted for the correct candidate if they chose the most ideologically proximate candidate.The effectiveness of these differential styles of thinking was highly inconsistent across the five studies. In the first study, strong support was found for the beneficial effect of unconscious thinking on correct voting. This effect, however did not replicate in the subsequent studies. More specifically, in some studies, unconscious thinking seemed to be weakly preferable to conscious thinking while in others conscious thinking was more effective. Thus, it is not possible to conclude that the either conscious or unconscious thinking was a more effective style of thinking. The implications of the results and possible reasons for the null effects are discussed.