Should You Go With Your Gut?

fountain penAre you someone who relies on logic, pros and cons lists and deliberative thought, to make the important decisions in you life? Or are you someone who makes “gut” decisions—choices rooted in emotion and feeling that are not always logical?

Traditionally, deliberating and weighing pros and cons has been considered the better approach for making good life decisions, Whether deciding on where to go for your next vacation or the right career path, many have long held the belief that emotion interferes with decision making. A new study in the August issue of Emotion investigates the benefits of emotion-focused decision making.

The study found that making decisions while drawing on your emotions can lead to superior choice quality, however, there are important restrictions. First, when talking about making emotional decisions, it’s important to note that the study did not assess purely emotional choices. It defined these feeling choices as intuitive. Intuition is often a feeling based on experience and is considered a quick, “gist-based” way of making choices.

The study found that emotion can both improve and impair complex decision making. In one condition in the study, complex intuitive decisions resulted in higher quality choices than complex choices based on details and deliberation. Subjects in this condition were instructed to base their decision on their feelings about the details of a particular choice (in the experiment they were choosing the best possible car). However, in a subsequent study, participants made poor feelings-based choices after being distracted and after over thinking the choice.

Understanding and assessing how feeling and emotion impact decision making are difficult tasks. The reality is that we often use both our emotions and deliberative thinking when we make important decisions. The results of this study suggest that “when the going gets tough, go with your gut"—but with a qualification not to overthink your decisions.

Photo by davidd, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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