And all this time we thought that decisions arose consciously by thoroughly evaluating the data and coming to a conclusion. Maybe not.
Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our
intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them
ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10
seconds before we become conscious of a decision — an eternity at the
speed of thought. Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice.
In ways we are only beginning to understand, the synapses and neurons
in the human nervous system work in concert to perceive the world
around them, to learn from their perceptions, to remember important
experiences, to plan ahead, and to decide and act on incomplete
information. In a rudimentary way, they predetermine our choices.
The article goes on to describe a couple of the scientific experiments that led to that conclusion.
Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious
decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when
the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students
knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also
predict which button the students would push. "It’s quite eerie," said Dr. Haynes.
As someone who relied on all-night nickel-ante poker games to supply beer money during college, my mind is already considering the possibilities. But what does this really mean?
The findings lend credence to researchers who argue
that many important decisions may be best made by going with our gut —
not by thinking about them too much.
Dutch researchers led by psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis
at the University of Amsterdam recently found that people struggling to
make relatively complicated consumer choices — which car to buy,
apartment to rent or vacation to take — appeared to make sounder
decisions when they were distracted and unable to focus consciously on
Moreover, the more factors to be considered in a
decision, the more likely the unconscious brain handled it all better,
they reported in the peer-reviewed journal Science in 2006. "The idea
that conscious deliberation before making a decision is always good is
simply one of those illusions consciousness creates for us," Dr.
So are leaders really great decision-makers, or is it just that their self-confidence lets them trust their first gut feel without the need to over-analyze?
Michael F. Martin says
Forget about leaders. Doesn’t this help explain why lean methods work better in manufacturing? Everybody within the firm gets more feedback from the people immediately downstream who will need their work. Changes don’t always have to be articulated by managers. Many can be negotiated on the fly by workers within the firm.