Just don't think about it

by Ian Johnson, CBC News Online

When you get a gut feeling, you might want to just go with it. A University College London study has found that you are more likely to perform well if you don't think too hard about something and instead trust your instincts.

The research, published online this week in the journal Current Biology, asked 10 people to pick out the reversed symbol on a screen showing more than 650 identical symbols, while a system tracked their eye movements to see what they zeroed in on. When people had to make snap decisions, they were right 95 per cent of the time. When given about a second and a half to think about their choice, their accuracy dropped to 70 per cent, according to the research report.

"The conscious or top-level function of the brain, when active, vetoes our initial subconscious decision – even when it is correct – leaving us unaware or distrustful of our instincts and at an immediate disadvantage," said the UCL department of psychology's Dr. Li Zhaoping. "Falling back on our inbuilt, involuntary subconscious processes for certain tasks is actually more effective than using our higher-level cognitive functions."

But before you decide to give up deep thoughts entirely and just go with the flow, the study notes that the accuracy rate went back up to around 95 per cent when subjects had more than four seconds to think about the task at hand.

On an interesting note, the researchers didn't say how long they spent evaluating their conclusions. Subconsciously, I can't help but wonder if they'd discover that they needed to rethink their findings if they really thought them over …