Don’t think twice, it’s alright

April 28, 2006

Just found an interesting article from a few months ago that nicely summarizes some of the current ideas and studies that are being done to find out just how useful it is to "think problems through":

In a study I conducted with Dolores Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Dana Dunn, a social psychologist at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, people in one group were asked to list the reasons their relationship with a romantic partner was going the way it was, and then rate how satisfied they were with the relationship. People in another group were asked to rate their satisfaction without any analysis; they just gave their gut reactions.

It might seem that the people who thought about the specifics would be best at figuring out how they really felt, and that their satisfaction ratings would thus do the best job of predicting the outcome of their relationships.

In fact, we found the reverse. It was the people in the "gut feeling" group whose ratings predicted whether they were still dating their partner several months later. As for the navel gazers, their satisfaction ratings did not predict the outcome of their relationships at all. Our conclusion? Too much analysis can confuse people about how they really feel. There are severe limits to what we can discover through self-reflection, and trying to explain the unexplainable does not lead to a sudden parting of the seas with our hidden thoughts and feelings revealed like flopping fish.

It goes on to talk about how overanalyzing a problem when we're currently feeling down is especially damaging.   Self-reflection just makes you more depressed because the activated part of your brain is a negative filter, and will have no problem coming up with more and more things that are going wrong, some that aren't related at all to the current problem, and it will send you into a downward spiral.

Read the whole article here: Don't think twice, it's alright

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One Response to “Don’t think twice, it’s alright”

  1. Pete Says:

    A thorough review of this kind of cognitive limitation was the 1977 paper “Telling More Than We Can Know” (http://depts.washington.edu/methods/readings/Nisbett_1977.pdf)

    Their point is not that self-reflection doesn’t help, but the more disturbing point that it is not even possible. What we call “self-reflection” is quite often just a priori theorizing about mechanisms we find plausible. Results like those in the article you mention are unsurprising in this light.


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